“Iranians should be confused about how to interpret the signals of a president whose policies and public statements have been so incoherent, impulsive and mercurial,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior official with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I suppose their goal is to just wait the madman for Biden to come.”
Iran made no immediate comment on the flights.
In a pre-mission briefing with a small group of reporters on Thursday, a senior military official said American intelligence analysts had determined that the Iranian and Shiite militias it supported in Iraq “have plans” – including preparations for possible missile attacks or worse.
In the past year, Iranian-minded officials in Iraq carried out more than 50 rocket attacks on bases housing US troops and the American embassy in Baghdad, and launched 90 attacks on convoys carrying supplies to American troops to the Pentagon.
“In short, Iran is using Iraq as a proxy for the battlefield against the United States. Iran’s ultimate goal is to drive the United States and our forces out of Iraq and the wider Middle East,” General McKenzie said last month during a virtual conference on the US Middle East.
Many senior commanders and intelligence analysts in the United States say that since the death of General Suleimani, who led the elite quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran may no longer exercise the same control over Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq as it did earlier did. Some of these militias could break out without Tehran’s blessing, potentially leading to escalation and military exchanges between Iran and the United States.
The senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe operations and intelligence evaluations, cited no concrete evidence of any major impending attack on American personnel. The official said, however, that military analysts rated the likelihood that Iran or its proxies misjudged the risks of such a strike as higher than usual.
That assessment prompted the additional deterrent measures, the official said.
The United States has sent an additional squadron of strike planes to Saudi Arabia in the past few weeks. And the aircraft carrier Nimitz, which left the Middle East on November 15 to participate in a naval exercise off the coast of India, returned to the region 10 days later, ostensibly to protect the several thousand armed forces commanded by Mr Trump out of Afghanistan and withdraw to Iraq.