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Trump and Israel Team Up to Cool Tensions With Iran

U.S. officials are raising concerns that intelligence about Iran's plans to attack American allies was misinterpreted.

by David Gilbert
May 17 2019, 11:09am

The U.S. and Israel have spent years condemning Iran, warning of the threat Tehran poses to the world. Now the leaders of the two countries are trying to de-escalate tensions, after U.S. officials raised concerns that intelligence gathered about Tehran’s recent plans has been misinterpreted.

Tensions between the U.S. and Tehran have been stoked by National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have claimed intelligence shows Tehran preparing to attack U.S. forces and allies, and have pushed the U.S. towards a military conflict with Iran.

Iran has repeatedly denied that it is a “threat to anybody in Iraq or elsewhere,” and labeled intelligence “fake,” accusing the U.S. of waging “propaganda warfare… perhaps hoping to initiate a conflict.”

Now, it appears that there was intelligence, but that it was misinterpreted by some in Washington.

Three weeks ago, Iran’s top military leader ordered the leaders of Tehran-backed militias in Iraq to “prepare for proxy war,” during a meeting in Baghdad according to the Guardian.

Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s powerful Quds force, ordered the meeting because of heightened tensions in the region. It is this meeting that in part led Bolton and Pompeo to raise concerns about an imminent Iranian attack, officials said.

The Trump administration has been sharply divided about what the intelligence means, and U.S. allies have come out publicly against the suggestion that Iran is preparing for an attack.

Qassem Suleimani
Qassem Suleimani Major General the Commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, Tehran-Iran 10/0/2012/AY-COLLECTION_112015/Credit:AY-COLLECTION/SIPA/1503091128 (Sipa via AP Images)

Officials speaking to the Wall Street Journal backed up the suggestion that the U.S. may have misinterpreted the intelligence, saying Tehran believed the U.S. planned to attack Iran, prompting it to take action that was viewed as threatening by Washington.

This has led to the unusual situation of Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trying to ease tensions with Iran.

On Thursday, when asked by a reporter if the U.S. was going to war with Iran, Trump said: “I hope not.” At a meeting with acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Trump reiterated his desire to avoid a military conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has similarly told his intelligence and military leaders that he would make every effort to prevent a full-blown war between the U.S. and Iran, as it could lead Israel into a conflict with Hezbollah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon.

But as just as one U.S. ally in the region appears to be moving away from advocating for a military attack, another is stoking tensions.

On Friday Saudi Arabia blamed Tehran for a drone strike that shut down a key oil pipeline in the kingdom, and a newspaper closely aligned to the palace called for Washington to launch “surgical” strikes on Iran.

An editorial in the English-language Arab News said it was “clear that [U.S.] sanctions are not sending the right message” and that “[Iran] must be hit hard.”

Cover: President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, shake hands in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019, at the beginning of their meeting. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)