Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at US-Iraqi airbases in retaliation for an American airstrike that killed a top Iranian general, yet the potential for a dramatic escalation was mitigated by the fact that there were no US casualties.
A US official said guided missiles were used in the attacks, and Iran appeared to be shooting to miss. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information wasn’t yet publicly announced.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed responsibility for the barrage, which the Pentagon said was launched from Iran, and warned that additional operations were being prepared.
At the same time, there were signs that both sides wanted to pull back from the brink of conflict, with Iran’s foreign minister saying his country didn’t wish to go to war, and Trump pronouncing that “All is well.”
The Pentagon said the three bases that were struck had already been on high alert, and Iraq said it had received prior warning from Iran of an assault, and that no US or Iraqi casualties were reported.
Stocks dropped and oil rose, though crude later pared gains on the reassuring signals. Major tanker companies, however, including Petrobas Brasileiro SA and the National Shipping Co of Saudi Arabia, suspended sailing through the Straits of Hormuz, a major oil waterway, Dow Jones reported.
Some sort of response had been expected to the killing last week of Qassem Soleimani, who ran Iran’s proxy operations across the Middle East and was killed in a drone strike near the airport in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. While Tehran doesn’t want outright war with the US, there was growing pressure at home to react. The balancing act was to do so without tipping things into a conflict that no one has appetite for.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the attacks on the bases as a “crushing response.” “Last night, they got a slap in the face,” he said. He again demanded that the US presence in the region come to an end, a sign that Tehran’s ultimate goal remains to push the US military out of Iraq.
Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sounded more conciliatory. The government “concluded proportionate measures in self-defense” after the Soleimani strike, he said.
Iran has for years operated a carefully calibrated strategy of attacks, often via proxies, in the Middle East, that preserves its influence without drawing major retaliation. Crippled by economic sanctions, it can ill afford an outright war.
Iran “needed to do something quick,” said Kamran Bokhari, founding director of the Center for Global Policy in Washington.
Tensions between Iran and the US have soared under Trump, who walked away from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, approved by his predecessor.