FACT CHECK: Is Iran ‘Not Looking For’ War With The US?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Dean Vali Nasr claimed that Iran “is not looking for war with the United States” in a Thursday Washington Post op-ed.

The piece described President Donald Trump’s decision to “decertify” former President Barack Obama’s Iran Deal as “the defining mistake of his foreign policy.”

Verdict: False

Iran’s overt and covert actions and rhetoric against the U.S. and U.S. Military suggest that Iran has actively sought conflict, not peace, with the U.S.

Fact Check:

The Iranian Revolution of 1979, during which a popular uprising led by Islamic fundamentalist elements ousted the country’s governing pro-U.S. Shah, popularized the still-used “Death to America” phrase in Iranian political discourse. Iran has supported groups and activities towards that effect ever since.

During the same year of the Iranian Revolution, violent Iranian protesters stormed the Tehran U.S. Embassy and held over 50 American diplomatic staffers hostage until 1981.

Two years later, Hezbollah, a radical Islamic extremist group, used truck bombs to kill 241 U.S. soldiers serving as peacekeepers in Lebanon. The operation was likely ordered, masterminded, and outfitted by Iran.

The U.S. State Department accordingly designated Iran as an official state sponsor of terrorism in early 1984, but terrorism has nevertheless remained an important conduit for Iranian anti-Americanism.

Iran, for instance, had links to the 9/11 hijackings and suicide attacks that killed over 3,000 Americans.

The 9/11 Commission Report had made note of possible assistance between al Qaeda, which perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, and Iran and Hezbollah. The report specifically found that Iranian and Hezbollah operatives helped smuggle some of al Qaeda’s 9/11 hijackers through Iran and into Taliban-occupied Afghanistan.

A decade later – in 2011 – U.S. officials foiled what was described as a “plot directed by elements of the Iranian government” to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. by bombing a Washington, D.C. restaurant and the Saudi and Israeli embassies. An Iranian operative had attempted to collude with a Mexican drug cartel for the murder plot before being caught and confessing to authorities.

(Experts contend Iran’s official role in the plot. Typical Iranian terror plots have not been known to involve non-Islamic Mexican drug cartels or used car salesmen operatives.)

“I would argue that, technically, Iran has been at war with the U.S. since the Iranian Revolution based on their support of terrorists that attack Americans in what I would define as acts of war,” Jim Phillips, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Phillips emphasized he did not mean “at war” in the conventional sense. “I would say that Iran would not want a full-fledged war that it knows it cannot win, but it is waging an asymmetrical campaign in which it uses surrogate groups to attack the U.S.,” Phillips explained.

The scope and nature of these “surrogate groups” and the proxy wars they fight on behalf of Iran have changed and adjusted depending on the circumstances.

In the aftermath of the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and ousting of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Iran pursued a policy of using terrorist proxies to destabilize Iraq, with whom it had fought a deadly war against for most of the 1980s, and kill U.S. security forces.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard and elite Quds Force operatives supplied and trained Iraqi militants to use explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), a deadlier yet still cheap version of IEDs. In total, these EFPs alone killed nearly 200 and wounded another almost 900 American soldiers in Iraq between just 2005 and 2011.

The Bush Administration openly criticized Iran for the bombings and bloodshed of U.S. troops, and the Bush White House even enacted a “kill or capture” policy to specifically target Iranian operatives in Iraq and stymie growing and deleterious Iranian influence in the country.

EFPs moreover are making their way back into Iraq, resuming the bloodshed of American and Iraqi lives.

Amidst reports of the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan, where the U.S. Military had largely withdrawn under the Obama Administration, Iran has pursued a policy of arming and aiding the Sunni-extremist group despite ideological and historic political rivalries.

Iran’s aid for its former foe in Afghanistan has two primary purposes. Faced with either the Taliban or a burgeoning IS presence, Iran chose the former as the lesser evil. Secondly, as Phillips explained to TheDCNF, “as long as the Taliban is killing Americans, Iran is willing to help them.”

Yemen is another theater for ongoing conflict by Iranian proxies.

Iran and U.S.-backed forces are currently clashing in Yemen’s ongoing civil war, with a Saudi Arabian-led and U.S.-supported coalition that has been fighting Houthi militants – an Iranian-supported Shia rebel group whose flag bears the Iranian Revolution’s famous “Death to America” slogan – in Yemen since 2015.

These Houthis militants in 2016 fired anti-ship missiles at a U.S. Navy destroyer off of the coast of Yemen. The missiles were believed to be an Iranian copy of Chinese anti-ship missile designs. The U.S. Navy later retaliated for the attack with cruise missile strikes.

Phillips also noted to TheDCNF that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has also been training Houthi militants and that Hezbollah’s infamous bombmaking training was what helped propel the “once pretty weak threat” of al Qaeda in the 1980s into a “pretty big one by the late ’90s.”

“It’s almost an expeditionary force,” Phillips said of Hezbollah, “an extension of the Revolutionary Guard that Iran can mobilize around the world.”

Iran is likely also responsible for a spate of cyberattacks against the U.S. at home, including attacks against White House officials and critical power infrastructure.

These facts do not suggest that Iran is actively seeking peace; they instead suggest that Iran, if anything, has sought and continues to seek conflict with the U.S. and U.S. interests. The claim that Iran “is not looking for war” with the U.S. does not hold up to the facts.

Dean Vali Nasr did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter