GENEVA (Reuters) – A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said on Sunday the U.S. military presence in the Gulf used to be a serious threat but now represents a target, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported.
The U.S. military has sent forces, including an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers, to the Middle East in a move that U.S. officials said was made to counter “clear indications” of threats from Iran to American forces in the region.
The USS Abraham Lincoln is replacing another carrier rotated out of the Gulf last month.
“An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past but now it is a target and the threats have switched to opportunities,” said Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards’ aerospace division.
“If (the Americans) make a move, we will hit them in the head,” he added, according to ISNA.
U.S. President Donald Trump also has increased economic pressure on Iran, moving to cut off all its oil exports, to try to get Tehran to curb its nuclear and missile programs as well as end support for proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
Speaking to CNBC in an interview to be broadcast on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. deployments came in response to intelligence about potential Iranian attacks and aimed both to deter them and to be able to respond if necessary.
“We’ve seen this reporting,” Pompeo said. “It’s real. It appears to be something that is current, that is things we’re worried about today.”
“In the event that Iran decided to come after an American interest – whether that be in Iraq or Afghanistan or Yemen or any place in the Middle East – we are prepared to respond in an appropriate way,” he said, adding that “our aim is not war.”
Iranian navy commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said on Sunday that American forces must exit, according to ISNA. “The presence of the Americans in the Persian Gulf region has reached its end and they must leave the region,” Khanzadi said.
Major General Hossein Salami, appointed head of the Guards last month, told parliament on Sunday the United States had started a psychological war in the region, the parliamentary spokesman said.
“Commander Salami, with attention to the situation in the region, presented an analysis that the Americans have started a psychological war because the comings and goings of their military is a normal matter,” spokesman Behrouz Nemati said, according to parliament’s ICANA news site.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Edmund Blair and Will Dunham)