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ANKARA, July 26, (Agencies): An Iranian military commander said on Thursday that Donald Trump should address any threats against Tehran directly to him, and mocked the US president as using the language of “night clubs and gambling halls”.
The comments by Major-General Qassem Soleimani, who heads the Quds Force of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, were the latest salvo in a war of words between the two countries. “As a soldier, it is my duty to respond to Trump’s threats. If he wants to use the language of threat, he should talk to me, not to the president (Hassan Rouhani),” Soleimani was quoted as saying by the Iranian Young Journalists’ Club.
Soleimani’s message was in essence a warning to the United States to stop threatening Iran with war or risk exposing itself to an Iranian response. “We are near you, where you can’t even imagine … Come. We are ready.
If you begin the war, we will end the war,” Tasnim news agency quoted Soleimani as saying. On Sunday night, Trump said in a tweet directed at Rouhani: “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death. Be cautious!”
A day earlier, Rouhani had addressed Trump in a speech, saying that hostile US policies could lead to “the mother of all wars”. Fanning the heightened tensions, US national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement on Monday: “President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.” Bolton is a proponent of interventionist foreign policy and was US ambassador to the United Nations in the administration of George W. Bush during the Iraq war. “You (Trump) threaten us with paying a price like few countries have ever paid. Trump, this is the language of night clubs and gambling halls,” said Soleimani, who as Quds Force commander is in charge of the Revolutionary Guards’ overseas operations.
Since Trump’s decision in May to withdraw the United States from a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, Tehran’s clerical establishment has been under increasing US pressure and the prospect of possible sanctions. Washington aims to force Tehran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups in the Middle East, where Iran is involved in proxy wars from Yemen to Syria. Despite the bellicose rhetoric, there is limited appetite in Washington for a conflict with Iran, not least because of the difficulties the US military faced in Iraq after its 2003 invasion but also because of the impact on the global economy if conflict raised oil prices.
Mounting US economic pressure, a faltering economy, sliding currency and state corruption are rattling Iran’s clerical rulers, but analysts and insiders rule out any chance of a seismic shift in Iran’s political landscape. “This is a war of words. Neither side want a military confrontation. But of course, if America attacks Iran, our response will be crushing,” a senior Iranian official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. Trump suggested on Tuesday that talks with Iran were an option, saying “we’re ready to make a real deal”.
But Iran rejected it. While the United States is pushing countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November, Iran has warned of counter-measures and has threatened to block Gulf oil exports if its own exports are halted. “The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure today with the presence of American forces,” Soleimani said.
Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was temporarily halting all oil shipments through the Red Sea shipping lane of Bab al-Mandeb after an attack on two oil tankers by Yemen’s Iranaligned Houthi movement. In other news, Iranian hackers known as “Rocket Kitten” repeatedly target American defense companies in hopes of stealing information to boost Tehran’s missile and space programs. Russian hackers last year compromised dozens of US energy companies.
A Chinese cyberespionage group called APT10 relentlessly attacks US engineering, telecom and aerospace industries. While Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election are widely known, spy services from China, Russia and Iran, along with their proxy hackers also are hard at work trying to steal trade secrets and proprietary information from the United States, according to a government report released Thursday.
“Foreign economic and industrial espionage against the United States continues to represent a significant threat to America’s prosperity, security and competitive advantage,” the National Counterintelligence and Security Center said. “China, Russia and Iran stand out as three of the most capable and active cyber actors tied to economic espionage and the potential theft of US trade secrets and proprietary information.”
Cyberespionage is a relatively lowcost, high-yield way to access and acquire information from US research institutions, universities and corporations, the report said, adding that cloud computing and new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, will expose even more vulnerabilities in US networks.
Cyberoperations are the preferred method for conducting economic espionage, the report said, but US adversaries also acquire sensitive information by hiring sophisticated hackers, recruiting spies or gleaning material from foreign students studying at American universities.