Trump Ups the Ante With a Death Threat to Iran

The flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea on Sunday. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Garrett LaBarge/U.S. Navy via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — President Trump warned Iran on Monday not to threaten the United States again or it will face its “official end,” shortly after a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad overnight.

Iran’s foreign minister quickly responded in kind on Twitter with his own message: #NeverThreatenAnIranian.

Trump’s tweet came after he appeared to soften his tone on Iran following days of heightened tension sparked by his sudden deployment of bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf over still-unspecified threats.

In the time since, officials in the United Arab Emirates claimed that four oil tankers sustained damage in a sabotage attack, and Yemeni rebels allied with Iran launched a drone attack on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia. U.S. diplomats relayed a warning that commercial airlines could be misidentified by Iran and attacked, something dismissed by Tehran. In fact, the United States misidentified an Iranian passenger jet and shot it down in 1988, killing all 290 aboard, including 66 children.

The recent tensions are the culmination of Trump’s decision a year ago to pull the United States out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. While both Washington and Tehran say they don’t seek war, many current and former officials worry that any miscalculation at this fraught moment could spiral out of control.

The tweet from Trump early Monday came just hours after a Katyusha rocket fell in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone near the statue of the Unknown Soldier, less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy, causing no injuries. Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that the rocket was believed to have been fired from east Baghdad. The area is home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted. “Never threaten the United States again!”

Trump did not elaborate, nor did the White House.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted his own message Monday on Twitter, saying Trump had been “goaded” into “genocidal taunts.” Zarif names Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan as two historical leaders that Persia outlasted.

“Iranians have stood tall for a millennia while aggressors all gone,” he wrote. He ended his tweet with: “Try respect — it works!”

Trump campaigned on pulling the United States from the 2015 nuclear accord, in which Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for lifting of economic sanctions. Since the withdrawal, the United States has reimposed sanctions and come up with new ones, and warned nations around the world they would be subject to sanctions too if they import Iranian oil.

Iran just announced it would begin backing away from terms of the deal, setting a 60-day deadline for Europe to come up with new terms or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels. Tehran has long insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build atomic bombs.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on the Fox News Channel, Trump called the nuclear deal a “horror show.”

“I just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons and they can’t be threatening us,” Trump said.

However, the nuclear deal had kept Iran from being able to acquire enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb. U.N. inspectors repeatedly certified that Iran was in compliance with the accord.

In Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s military intercepted two missiles fired by the Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen. The missiles were intercepted over the city of Taif and the Red Sea port city of Jiddah, the Saudi-owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya reported.

The channel cited witnesses for the information. The Saudi government has yet to acknowledge the missile fire, which other Saudi media also reported.

Hundreds of rockets, mortars and ballistic missiles have been fired into the kingdom since a Saudi-led coalition declared war on the Houthis in March 2015 to support Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

However, the Houthis’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel denied Monday that the rebels had any involvement with this round of rocket fire.

Between the two targeted cities is Mecca, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that Muslims pray toward five times a day. Many religious pilgrims are in the city for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet on Sunday announced it would begin “enhanced security patrols” in international waters with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Already, the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and others are in the Arabian Sea, waters close to the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which one-third of all oil traded at sea passes.

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