NBC: Iran preparing to attack Americans in Middle East

What came first — the MSNBC chicken or the NBC-intel-reporting egg? Iran has issued ultimata to its European partners to choose between Washington and Tehran despite warnings from its partners not to push it. At the same time, NBC News reports, Iranians have been telling its proxies in the Middle East that the gloves can come off against the US.

That won’t end well for anyone, either:

The U.S. decision to surge additional military forces into the Middle East was based in part on intelligence that the Iranian regime has told some of its proxy forces and surrogates that they can now go after American military personnel and assets in the region, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence.

The intelligence shows that an Iranian official discussed activating Iranian-backed groups to target Americans, but did not mention targeting the militaries of other nations, the officials said.

Among the specific threats the U.S. military is now tracking, officials say, are possible missile attacks by Iranian dhows, or small ships, in the Persian Gulf; attacks in Iraq by Iranian-trained Shiite militia groups; and attacks against U.S. ships by the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The U.S. has accused Iran of moving missiles and missile components through the region’s waterways for years, shipping missiles to the Houthis in Yemen and others. And Shiite militia groups like Baghdad Katib Hezbollah (BKH) have been in Iraq for years, acting essentially as sleeper cells. What is new and what has alarmed U.S. military officials, sources say, is the call to awaken and activate these existing threats.

It’s a rather remarkable report coming from NBC News this morning, especially since MSNBC spent a few minutes just last night poo-poohing the Iranian threat as a “neocon” conspiracy. Chris Matthews featured an interview with Daily Beast reporter Betsy Woodruff, claiming that the US is inflating evidence of an Iranian threat. Note well the “DRUMBEAT OF WAR” graphic that runs underneath this discussion:

Suffice it to say that this segment of emoting didn’t age well … even on its own network. Anyone who suggests that Iran and its proxies don’t constitute a threat to US interests and its allies simply haven’t been paying attention for the last 40 years. That doesn’t mean that war is the inevitable answer, but it should mean that preparing for conflict and ensuring that Iran understands the consequences are at least reasonable responses to the threat from “Persia,” as Matthews calls it at one point.

The NBC news division appears to have confirmed that the threat that provoked a US response was real enough. The debate will now inevitably shift to whether the US provoked the threat by backing out of the Iran deal, more officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). European leaders begged Iran to rethink its ultimata and threat to restart nuclear-weapons programs that were arguably never stopped in the first place. Mike Pompeo acknowledged yesterday that the US and Europe has different views on the JCPOA, but both he and UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt agree that renuclearizing would be a very bad step for the Iranian regime:

As Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) points out, the new intelligence is “very credible, real,” but it’s part of an overall threat from Iran that never abated even with the JCPOA. With the new sanctions biting Iran’s economy, McCaul says, “I think they’re getting desperate”:

France has offered one path to reforming the JCPOA in a manner that might get the Trump administration’s attention:

French President Emmanuel Macron called on Thursday for the nuclear deal to be extended to cover other issues of concern to the West, such as Iran’s regional policies and missile program, rather than jettisoned.

“Leaving the 2015 nuclear agreement is a mistake because it is undoing what we have already done. That’s why France is remaining and will remain a part of it and I deeply hope that Iran will remain,” Macron said.

“We contributed to negotiating this deal. France at the time had even pushed for it to be more demanding than what the United States was ready to accept. It is a good deal and good base. It needs to be completed,” he said.

That would make for a good start, but not a comprehensive solution. The main objections to the JCPOA in the US were the missile program and Iran’s regional policies, but also a lack of access to known nuclear-weapons development sites. Put simply, the JCPOA takes it too much on faith that Iran isn’t developing nuclear weapons in the near term, and it all but licenses Iran to develop them in a decade. In the meantime, the West will end up rebuilding the Iranian economy, allowing the mullahs to expand their hegemony via regional proxies of the kind that Tehran apparently tried to activate against the US recently.

This now puts pressure on Iran to choose whether it wants to be a responsible trading partner or a pariah. The JCPOA in its original form let them off the hook from having to choose.