Hours after the U.S. flew two nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over the Persian Gulf for the second time this month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed Thursday that he is aware of intelligence suggesting that President Donald Trump's administration is engaged in a "plot to fabricate a pretext for war"during its final days in power.
"Instead of fighting Covid in the U.S., Donald Trump and cohorts waste billions to fly B-52s and send armadas to our region," Zarif tweeted, referring to a Wednesday maneuver by the U.S. that American officials predictably characterized as defensive. The flight came just over a week after the U.S. sailed a nuclear submarine through the Persian Gulf and touted the vessel's "ability to carry up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles."
"Intelligence from Iraq indicates a plot to fabricate a pretext for war," Zarif said Thursday. "Iran doesn't seek war but will openly and directly defend its people, security, and vital interests."
The warning from Iran's top diplomat, a key negotiator of the nuclear agreement that Trump violated in 2018, came after U.S. officials blamed Iran for a recent missile attack on the American embassy in Baghdad and claimed without evidence that Tehran is preparing a "possibly imminent attack" on U.S. forces in the Middle East.
"Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets. Three rockets failed to launch," Trump tweeted last week. "Guess where they were from: IRAN. Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq."
Iran denied responsibility for the embassy attack—which injured one Iraqi and damaged two buildings—and accused the Trump administration of "seeking to increase tensions" in the region with baseless allegations.
One unnamed senior U.S. defense official expressed concern to CNN Wednesday that "some within the government are painting the situation with Iran as more dire than it actually is and are preoccupied with the potential for retaliatory attacks by Iran to mark the anniversary of [Gen. Qasem] Soleimani's assassination," which Trump ordered nearly a year ago. Denounced as a violation of international law, the killing nearly provoked an all-out war between the U.S. and Iran.
"When you need a show of force to deter attacks around the anniversary of an assassination that you originally justified as 'reestablishing deterrence,' you haven't reestablished deterrence," tweeted Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in response to the B-52 flight Wednesday. "And yes, obviously the whole 'reestablishing deterrence' claim was dishonest nonsense from the beginning, but it's worth pointing out that it's been disproven even according to its own dishonest, nonsensical terms."
The latest B-52 maneuver took place amid simmering fears that Trump and the warhawks in his administration could be angling to attack Iran in a last-ditch effort to undermine President-elect Joe Biden's push to reestablish diplomatic relations with Tehran and return the U.S. to compliance with the nuclear accord. Just last month, Trump reportedly asked his advisers for a strike on Iran's primary nuclear energy site.
In an op-ed for Responsible Statecraft over the weekend, former CIA analyst Paul Pillar wrote that the "the objective of sabotaging the next administration points to one of the most likely and dangerous things that the unhinged lame duck president might do in his final days in office, which is to initiate a military clash with Iran."
Sina Toossi, senior research analyst with the National Iranian American Council, echoed Pillar's warning in a tweet on Wednesday. "War with Iran," wrote Toossi, "could be Trump's final punishment on the American people for rejecting him and a massive act of sabotage against Biden for defeating him."