Top White House officials on Sunday warned that Iran should not mistake U.S. discretion for weakness after President Trump called off airstrikes last week in retaliation for Tehran’s downing of an American drone, and officials confirmed over the weekend that the Pentagon already struck back with cyberattacks on Iranian military systems.
Vice President Mike Pence and White House National Security Adviser John R. Bolton stressed that military options remain on the table after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone last week, just days after accusing Tehran of carrying out limpet mine attacks on civilian oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.
Mr. Trump considered responding to the drone downing with targeted attacks on Iranian radar and missile batteries but pulled back after learning that 150 Iranians would be killed.
Although that decision seems to have temporarily cooled tensions between the two sides, the administration said Iran should not test the U.S. again.
“Iran should not mistake restraint for a lack of resolve,” Mr. Pence told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Speaking in Jerusalem alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Bolton sounded a similar note.
“No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East. As President Trump said on Friday, our military is rebuilt, new and ready to go,” he said.
Relations between Washington and Tehran have deteriorated since Mr. Trump last year pulled the U.S. out of a multinational deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program and put into place a crippling set of economic sanctions. More sanctions are expected to be announced Monday, officials said.
On the heels of his decision to forgo airstrikes, Mr. Trump has extended an olive branch to Iran and reiterated that he is open to talks. He said that if Tehran comes back to the table and agrees to U.S. conditions — including giving up all nuclear weapons ambitions, stopping its support for terrorism and other steps — then the nation’s sagging economy will recover.
“If Iran wants to become a wealthy nation again, become a prosperous nation — we’ll call it ‘Let’s make Iran great again,’ ” Mr. Trump told reporters on Saturday. “But they’re never going to do it if they think, in five or six years, they’re going to have a nuclear weapon.”
Critics have praised Mr. Trump for showing restraint and avoiding airstrikes that could have sparked a broader war in the Middle East, but they still argue that the president has no comprehensive strategy for dealing with Iran and is largely responsible for where things stand.
“This has been folly. There is no strategy here,” Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat and 2020 presidential candidate, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “We have a president that seems to be doing this like a reality TV show and trying to build more drama and trying to make foreign policy by tweet. We have to, as a nation, work in coordination with our allies to denuclearize Iran and to bring stability and peace back to that region.”
“What I see is Iran steadily marching up the escalation chain,” Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, told “Fox News Sunday.” “It started out with threats. It went to an attack on vessels in ports. It went to an attack on vessels at sea. Now it’s an unmanned American aircraft.
“I fear that if Iran doesn’t have a firm set of boundaries drawn around its behavior we’re going to see an attack on a U.S. ship or a U.S. manned aircraft,” Mr. Cotton said.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials over the weekend said the U.S. launched a sweeping cyberattack against the Iranian military last week immediately after the drone shoot-down.
The response was aimed at Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the nation’s military that the White House officially labeled a terrorist organization this year. The cyberattack targeted computer systems that control the corps’ rocket and missile launchers, administration officials said.
Iranian officials did not address the cyberattack but threatened to shoot down more aircraft that violate its airspace.
“Our response to anything trespassing Iranian territory is like this, and if such acts of aggression are repeated, our response will also be the same,” said Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Force Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, as quoted by Iran’s Fars News Agency.
Iranian officials in recent days also have said they will begin disregarding key pieces of the Obama-era nuclear deal and will dramatically increase stockpiles of uranium.
Iran also has engaged in a systematic campaign of cyberattacks on U.S. assets and the use of disinformation.
The administration on Sunday pushed back against several specific instances of Iranian disinformation. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied reports that the U.S. had used Oman as an intermediary to send messages to Iran.
He also flatly rejected reports — apparently originating from Iran — that the U.S. had begun evacuating its personnel from Balad Air Base in Iraq.
“Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States is more committed than ever to supporting our allies and partners in the region,” Mr. Pompeo said.
Mr. Pompeo was reportedly one of the officials urging the president to proceed with airstrikes during White House deliberations last week.
The president detailed his rationale for abandoning those strikes in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” which was recorded Friday and aired Sunday.
“And I thought about it for a second and I said, ‘You know what? They shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it,” Mr. Trump said. “And here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said, ‘Go ahead.’ And I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it was proportionate.”
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.
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