U.S., Canadian and U.K. officials believe that a Ukrainian commercial aircraft that crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board, was downed by a missile system fired by Iran, possibly by mistake. "We have a high level of confidence that this was shot down by Iran," one U.S. official said Thursday. The official said the plane was being tracked moments before it went down by Iranian radar used to aim missiles. A second official said the U.S. believes Iran may have downed the aircraft by mistake.
An Iranian military commander said Thursday that missiles fired at bases used by U.S. troops in Iraq were not intended to inflict casualties, in the latest sign that Iran was seeking to avoid further escalation of hostilities with the United States. After more than a dozen missiles slammed into the bases early Wednesday local time, both sides for now appear to be stepping back from further conflict. "We did not intend to kill," said Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's Aerospace Force, according to Iranian state media.
A day after President Trump backed away from further military conflict with Iran, a commander of the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps declared that Iran would soon take "harsher revenge" on the United States for a drone strike last week that killed a top Iranian general. But another Iranian military leader said his country's missile attacks targeting Americans in Iraq this week had not been intended to kill anyone. The remarks were just some of the mixed messages put forth by Iranian leaders on Thursday after Iranian missile strikes, which hit two military bases in Iraq housing American troops.
UANI IN THE NEWS
...Jason Brodsky, an Iran expert based in Washington, believes that the Iranian missile response against U.S. forces should be measured by phases. "The first phase was direct retaliation. The second phase is likely to be indirect retaliation through proxies within its broader Axis of Resistance," he told VOA. Iran and its proxy militia groups in the region refer to their alliance as the "Axis of Resistance." It's important to pay attention to the messaging of Iran's supreme leader's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Brodsky said, adding that "in response to Iran's attack on the airbases in Iraq, [Khamenei] said 'such military actions are not enough.'
The images are horrific. His left eyeball seemed to float in the bloody, mangled mass that used to be his face. A bomb tore through the front of U.S. Army sniper Robert Bartlett's head as he rode in a Humvee in Iraq in 2005. The device was traced to the Iranian Quds Force led by Gen. Qasem Soleimani. So when President Donald Trump ordered the killing of the general last week, it wasn't exactly an unwelcome development for Bartlett.
Iraq veteran injured by Iranian-made explosive says it's 'about time' Soleimani was taken out. Sgt. Robert Bartlett reacts to Iranian aggression and the U.S. response.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran could have nuclear weapons in one to two years if the country carries on violating the 2015 nuclear accord, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday. "If they continue with unravelling the Vienna agreement, then yes, within a fairly short period of time, between one and two years, they could have access to a nuclear weapon, which is not an option", Le Drian said on RTL radio.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson underlined Britain's continued commitment to the Iranian nuclear deal on Thursday in a call with the country's president, Hassan Rouhani, Johnson's spokesman said on Thursday. "The prime minister spoke with President Rouhani of Iran this morning. They discussed the situation in the region following the death of Qassem Soleimani and the prime minister called for an end to hostilities," the spokesman told reporters.
The landmark 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons has been teetering on the edge of collapse since the United States pulled out unilaterally in 2018. The European Union says it will "spare no effort" to keep the deal alive, but with tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalating into open hostilities it seems increasingly unlikely that will be possible.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States has increased sanctions on Iran after a missile strike this week on Iraqi bases housing American military personnel, but gave no other details. "It's already been done. We've increased them. They were very severe, but now it's increased substantially," Trump told reporters at the White House. "I just approved it a little while ago with Treasury." Trump did not elaborate on the new sanctions and said the Treasury Department would make a statement.
Iran denied on Thursday that a Ukrainian airliner that crashed near Tehran had been hit by a missile, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said in a statement, according to state TV. "All these reports are a psychological warfare against Iran ... all those countries whose citizens were aboard the plane can send representatives and we urge Boeing to send its representative to join the process of investigating the black box"
Iran said on Friday it wanted to download black box recordings itself from a Ukrainian airliner that crashed, killing all 176 people aboard, after Canada and others said the plane was brought down by an Iranian missile, probably by mistake. Iran, which has denied the Boeing 737-800 was downed by a missile, said it could take one or two months to extract information from the voice and flight data recorders. It said it could ask Russia, Canada, France or Ukraine if it needed help. Tehran also said the probe might take one or two years.
Iran's missile strikes this week on two Iraqi military bases and suspected role in the takedown of a Ukraine-bound passenger jet, stand as examples of Tehran's ballistic missile capability. Iran, which boasts one of the largest and most diverse missile portfolios in the Middle East, uses its arsenal to project power throughout the region. "Iran's missile arsenal is their relative strength to reach out and touch or hold at risk various targets," Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has accepted an invitation from Iran to take part in its investigation into the crash of a Ukrainian airplane in Tehran, the agency confirmed late on Thursday. The NTSB said in a statement its Response Operations Center had received formal notification from Iran of Wednesday's crash of the Boeing 737-800 that killed all 176 on board. "The NTSB has designated an accredited representative to the investigation of the crash," the agency said.
President Donald Trump used his first campaign election rally of 2020 to argue that he served up "American justice" by ordering a drone strike to take out Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, while jeering Democratic leaders for questioning his decision to carry out the attack without first consulting Congress. Trump's remarks on Thursday careened from mockery of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, to a suggestion that he should have won the Nobel Prize, a preview of the sharp-edged reelection campaign that he will wage.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday that Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general that he ordered killed with a drone strike, had been planning to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Trump and his aides have drawn sharp criticism from opposition Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans for refusing to disclose what they say was the "imminent threat" that Soleimani posed at the time he was killed in the car he was riding in at the airport in the Iraqi capital last week.
The Strait of Hormuz is once again a center of global tensions. The Middle East's crude oil and natural gas flow through the narrow sea conduit to international markets, making it the world's most critical transportation "chokepoint." Incidents there - such as Iran's seizure of a British tanker and attacks on ships in 2019 - can whipsaw energy prices and send shipping and insurance rates rocketing.
Iran reportedly changed course on Friday and invited Boeing-a U.S.-based company-- to help in its investigation into the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed in Tehran a day earlier. A day earlier, Tehran said it would refuse to include the aerospace giant in its probe that has drawn international attention and widespread speculation that a missile caused the crash that killed the 176 onboard. Iran also slammed the U.S. for its "psychological operation" around the cause of the crash that it says only "adds salt to the injuries" of the family members of those who perished.
President Trump touted the recent U.S. strike on an Iranian military leader as "bold and decisive action," and criticized Democrats, as he appeared in the battleground state of Ohio for his kickoff campaign rally of 2020. Amid the clash with Iran and the impeachment process in Congress, Mr. Trump received an enthusiastic welcome in Toledo before thousands crowded into the downtown Huntington Center. The rally came as Mr. Trump's campaign has sought to use the conflict with Iran to portray him as a strong commander-in-chief, while striking back at criticism from Democrats.
A Republican senator called the administration's defense of the president's decision to kill Iran's most powerful commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, with a drone strike on Iraqi soil "absolutely insane." A Democratic senator, evoking the rhetorical stylings of George W. Bush, called Iran a nation "full of malevolent evildoers." People are still trying to make sense of what happened and what it will mean: Was it justified ethically? Was it wise strategically?
I am glad Qasem Soleimani is dead. Iran's measured response to the general's killing has many people believing the worst of this crisis has passed. Should we be relieved? By limiting its response to U.S. military targets, Iran sent a powerful message to its own people that Soleimani's killing would not go unavenged. Tehran managed to accomplish this without escalating a military conflict with the United States. However, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials would be well-advised to remember that Iran's most provocative actions have often been asymmetric attacks conducted through proxy forces and terrorist elements.
Democrats warned that President Trump's decision to take out Iranian terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani had put the United States on the path toward a cataclysmic war with Iran. They were dead wrong. Trump won his standoff with Iran. When Trump drew his red line - warning Tehran that if it killed even one American, the United States would respond militarily against Iran - the regime never expected him to enforce it. His decision to kill Soleimani clearly stunned Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and left his regime chastened.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran's missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops were the first stage of a major regional operation aimed at expelling U.S. forces from the Middle East, the Iranian commander responsible for the attack said Thursday. Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who as commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard's Aerospace Force oversees most of Iran's missile arsenal, stopped short of threatening further concrete military action. He also said Iran hadn't intended to kill anyone in Wednesday's attack but only to cause material damage.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
After the U.S. assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran finds itself under more pressure than at any point since the Islamic Republic's inception in 1979. Iran's economy suffers under severe American sanctions, which helped fuel recent nationwide protests that prompted security forces to conduct the most violent crackdown in decades.
CONGRESS & IRAN
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution on Thursday to rein in President Donald Trump's ability to engage in military conflict against Iran, days after he ordered a drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander. As voting continued, the tally was 224-194, largely along party lines, reflecting the deep divide in Congress between Democrats, who accused Trump of acting recklessly and voted for the resolution, and Trump's fellow Republicans, who strongly back the president.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
This town, which lies just more than a mile from the border with Lebanon, is known for its clean air, snowcapped mountain views, and bucolic way of life. It is also one of the most-rocketed towns in the country. Perched on the lower slopes of the Naftali Mountains before tumbling out into the bird-watching haven of the Hula Valley, Kiryat Shmona sits in an area noted for its tranquil beauty as well as its violent past, and the juxtaposition is inescapable here.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The U.S. killing of senior Iranian military commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani left many of America's allies in the Middle East confused and nervous. That includes Saudi Arabia, the top regional rival of Iran. The Saudi-U.S. relationship has become particularly close since President Trump took office. It could prove to be a double-edged sword for the kingdom, analysts say, as Iran contemplates its next moves.
IRAQ & IRAN
In the hours after President Trump declared that the U.S. and Iran were backing away from open conflict, militants in Baghdad fired two rockets that set off warning sirens at the U.S. Embassy. The blasts late Wednesday caused little damage, but they appeared to be a sign that Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran could still play spoilers in the volatile conflict between Washington and Tehran.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Britain on Friday said it was advising against all travel to Iran as information suggested a Ukrainian airliner that crashed on Wednesday had probably been shot down by Iran. "Given the body of information that UIA Flight 752 was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, and the heightened tensions, we are now advising British nationals not to travel to Iran," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. "We also recommend against taking a flight to, from and within Iran," he added, in a statement from the Foreign Office.
The risk of nation-state cyberattacks against U.S. interests remains high amid simmering geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, cybersecurity experts said. Stark warnings over possible Iranian action through cyberattacks from the Department of Homeland Security this week prompted discussions at a WSJ Pro Cybersecurity Symposium in San Diego on Thursday about how concerned businesses should be about a specific nation-state threat.