Senior Iran military chief tells Trump: 'We're ready to stand up against you'

Quds commander suggests country may disrupt oil shipments through Red Sea

The senior Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani has hit back at Donald Trump’s tweeted threats against Tehran in colourful language, likening him to a gambler and a cabaret owner, and saying Iran would be the one to “end” any war between their two countries.

“I’m telling you, Mr Trump the gambler, I am telling you: know that where you are not thinking of, we are near you. Places you cannot imagine, we are next to you,” said Suleimani, who is in charge of the Quds force, the external arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, during a speech in the western city of Hamedan on Thursday. “We, the Iranian nation, have gone through tough events. You may begin a war, but it is us who will end it. Go ask your predecessors about it. So stop threatening us. We are ready to stand up against you.

“The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure for the presence of American [military] ... The Quds force and I are your match. We don’t go to sleep at night before thinking about you,” added Suleimani, according to the Tasnim news agency.

Suleimani’s intervention was in response to a tweet on Sunday by the US president, who warned Iran of “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before”. It was prompted by a speech by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who had warned that the US shouldn’t “play with lion’s tail” and that “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars”.

Suleimani told Trump: “It is not in our president’s dignity to respond to you, but I, as a soldier, will,” before adding: “[Your] language belongs to cabarets. Only a cabaret owner uses such language to communicate with the world.”

Suleimani is the most senior Iranian official to weigh in over the Trump-Rouhani row, which has escalated the hostile rhetoric between Tehran and Washington. In May, Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the 2015 landmark nuclear deal, in spite of European opposition and the fact Iran has kept its obligations under the agreement, as repeatedly verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Washington wants all countries to stop buying Iranian oil by 4 November, which has sparked an angry response in Tehran, which has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, where one-fifth of the world’s oil passes through in tankers. Suleimani’s mention of the Red Sea indicates Iran would also consider disrupting oil shipments through the Bab al-Mandeb Red Sea route via proxies.

“What could you do that you haven’t already done over the past 20 years?” Suleimani asked of the US. “You came to Afghanistan with tens of tanks and armoured vehicles and hundreds of advanced helicopters and committed crimes there but what the hell have you achieved [in Afghanistan] between 2001 and 2018 with 110,000 troops? Isn’t it that now you are begging the Taliban to negotiate?”

Suleimani castigated the Trump administration for supporting the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), an extreme Iranian opposition group that independent observers say is a cult-like organisation despised by most Iranians, with no visible support inside the country. “America had some grandeur in the past, but today, you have gathered these hypocrites who are Iran’s trash,” Suleimani said.

The Iranian commander, who previously called US soldiers in Iraq “pants-pissing wimps” during a visit to Syria, said: “Have you forgotten that you were providing your soldiers with adult nappies and today you are threatening us? What the hell could you do in 33-day war [in Lebanon] other than accepting Hezbollah’s conditions for an end to war?”

Suleimani’s warning to the US about the Red Sea comes on the same day Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, suspended oil exports through the strategic shipping lane of Bab al-Mandeb due to missile attacks on two oil tankers by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels off the Yemen coast.

“Saudi Arabia is temporarily halting all oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb strait immediately until the situation becomes clearer and the maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb is safe,” Khalid al-Falih, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, said in a statement on Thursday.

Riyadh and Tehran are on the opposing ends of the three-year conflict in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia, which has led a US-backed military intervention in Yemen since March 2015 aimed at countering the advances of Houthis, who belong to the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam, accuses Tehran of militarily supporting the rebels.

Houthis have intensified missile attacks on Saudi soil and targets since Saudi and UAE coalition forces advanced towards the port city of Hodeidah, a key entry point for aid and food into Yemen.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE foreign minister, said the targeting of Saudi Arabian oil carriers in the Red Sea underscored the need to defeat the Houthi militia. “Such a systematic attack on maritime navigation represents a reckless terrorist act that reflects the nature of al-Houthi and its aggression.”

He defended the intervention in Yemen, saying the Saudi coalition had faced a choice between “a difficult decision now or an impossible position later” and said the strategic goal of removing Houthis from Hodeidah remained since it would force the Houthis to the negotiating table.

He said the UAE was giving the UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, time but added “there will be an end to the patience”, arguing anti-Houthi forces could not be expected to drive 200 miles forward up the coast to the outskirts of Hodeidah and then pull back.


Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Patrick Wintour

The GuardianTramp

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