Did Iran warn the U.S. that an attack was coming?

We had advance notice of impending missiles via technological means, per the early-warning system, but what I’m asking is whether there were communications between the two countries in the interest of averting casualties. If, as it appears, the point of the strike was for Iran to save face without escalating things further by killing Americans, then it’d be important for the Iranian military to do what it could in advance to prevent such killings. Solution: Tip off the target.

Did they tip us off?

It’s clear that they did so indirectly, at least:

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi said Iran sent Iraq an official verbal message that an attack “had begun or would begin shortly,” on unspecified US military locations — but other informed sources are contradicting that timeline.

An Arab diplomatic source told CNN that Iraq gave advance warning to the United States on “which bases would be hit” after Iranian officials passed on the information.

A US defense official said Iraqis were told by Iran to stay away from certain bases.

Surely Iran understood that warning the Iraqis would mean the Iraqis would warn the Americans. Maybe warning the Iraqis couldn’t be avoided, though: Given how forceful the protests against Iranian hegemony were in Iraq this past fall, Iran might have calculated that an attack on an Iraqi base that ended up killing Iraqis was too politically dangerous. If having to spare Iraqis meant having to spare Americans too, so be it.

But that’s hard to believe. Iran has all sorts of precision ways to kill Americans that would have avoided Iraqi casualties — and they’ve never been sticklers about the value of Iraqi lives, to put it very mildly. Besides, if their warning to Iraq was all about the special need to avoid Iraqi casualties, what should we make of this?

The militaries of Finland and Lithuania, which had personnel at one of the targeted bases, said they received information about an imminent attack and had time to take shelter or leave the base.

It’s not clear from that whether they received a warning directly from Iran or secondhand, as the U.S. did, but it would make sense that Iran warned them directly in order not to alienate European countries at a moment when Europe is caught between Iran and the United States on how aggressively to deter Iran’s nuclear program. Either way, both countries are U.S. allies and Lithuania is a member of NATO. Telling them would also be tantamount to telling the United States and Iran knew it. And needless to say, Iran wasn’t at risk of war with either country if some of their troops had ended up as collateral damage in a strike on the United States.

What I want to know is whether there was any direct notification to the U.S. from Iran itself, as nothing would have communicated their interest in de-escalation as clearly as that. And that was important potentially, as they had no idea how quickly Trump might strike back after the missile attacks. If they warned the Iraqis in the expectation that the Iraqis would warn us, but the Iraqis ended up dragging their feet for whatever reason and Americans ended up dying, we’d be in a bad situation this morning. The only way to guarantee that the intent to de-escalate was made clear would have been with a direct warning. I haven’t seen evidence of that in the news today but I’m curious about it. Although presumably we’ll never know if it happened, since leaking that information would risk humiliating Iran and re-escalating. It’s better off a secret.

I agree with Philip Klein that this episode is a major victory for Trump if it’s over. Is it?

Soleimani was one of the most important figures in Iran and the architect of its regional strategy to extend the regime’s influence from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea. He directed global terrorist attacks, targeted U.S. troops in Iraq, aided Bashar Assad in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of his own people, supported the terrorist group Hezbollah, and fueled the civil war in Yemen by supporting the radical Houthi movement…

By taking out Soleimani, Trump not only undermined Iran’s capabilities in the region, but he reestablished deterrence by demonstrating that the U.S. had the means, the intelligence assets, and the will to strike Iran hard. Barring casualties, this attack can be shrugged off by the U.S. The cost-benefit analysis is not even close.

Iran’s supreme leader said this morning that “They were slapped last night, but such military actions are not enough.” That sounds ominous, although he then went on to complain about ending the American presence in the region, which makes the “not enough” more ambiguous. On the other hand, I think Yashar Ali is right about all of the following. Don’t pop the champagne yet:

There are other examples of delayed Iranian retaliation in his full Twitter thread. Josh Barro makes a good point too: “There were two key risks of the Soleimani strike: Iranian retaliation against the US, and deterioration of our security partnership with Iraq. Lots of victory laps focusing only on the first question (which clearly isn’t as bad as one might have feared, so far).” With Americans and Iranians firing missiles at each other on Iraqi soil and Trump weirdly threatening to sanction Iraq if they force U.S. troops to leave, has the U.S.-Iraqi relationship gotten better or worse this past week?

Big victory overall, though. For now. Fingers crossed.

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