ISTANBUL — The powerful commander of Iran’s special forces warned the United States on Thursday to halt threats of military action against Tehran, raising the stakes in an already fiery exchange between U.S. and Iranian leaders this week.
The combative message from Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, chief of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds force, also suggested that Iran’s leadership is willing to stoke tensions with the Trump administration as part of Tehran’s efforts to project wider regional clout.
Soleimani said President Trump would regret waging a war that would “destroy all that he owns” — an apparent reference to U.S. influence in the region.
“You may begin the war, but it will be us who will end it,” Soleimani said in a speech in the central city of Hamedan, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported.
He also said that the Red Sea, a critical waterway linking the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean basin, was “no longer secure” with U.S. military assets stationed in the area.
Iran has often denounced the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, including the Navy’s 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. But Soleimani’s reference to the Red Sea reflects an expanded regional reach for what Iran considers within its military sphere.
Soleimani — a shadowy commander who has waged proxy wars in Iraq and Syria, including against U.S. troops — stopped short of issuing concrete threats against U.S. forces.
But his remarks came just one day after Saudi Arabia announced it was suspending oil shipments in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, because of what authorities said was a missile attack on two Saudi oil tankers by Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen.
The rebels claimed the attack on the Saudi oil tankers in the strait, but said the movement had targeted a Saudi warship called the Dammam, according to an article on the website of the rebel-run al-Masirah news channel.
The war in Yemen has been a theater for spiking tensions between Iran and the United States. The Trump administration and its ally Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of providing weapons, including ballistic missiles, and other support to the Houthis, a rebel group that seized control of Yemen’s capital four years ago.
But the hostile words from one of Iran’s most influential generals suggest heightened tensions and come amid a particularly sharp escalation in rhetoric on both sides.
This week, Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani traded barbs that culminated in Trump firing off a tweetthreatening Iran with “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”
The Iranian commander “knows he has a range of indirect options to needle U.S. interests across the region,” Tobias Schneider, a Middle East analyst at the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute, wrote Thursday on Twitter.
Soleimani’s options, he said, include threatening U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, stepping up missile attacks on Saudi cities and disrupting regional shipping lanes.
Iranian military officials have suggested recently that they could block the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point for a third of the world’s oil shipments, should U.S. sanctions prevent Iran from exporting its own oil.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have also previously threatened to block the Bab al-Mandeb Strait in retaliation for Saudi-led military offensives.
One of the ships “sustained minimal damage,” Aramco, the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, said in a statement.
The Saudi Energy Ministry said Thursday that the country was temporarily halting the shipments “until the situation becomes clearer” and maritime transit “is safe,” according to a statement from the Saudi-led military coalition operating in Yemen.