WASHINGTON: US lawmakers clashed Monday over intelligence on Iran, with an ally of President Donald Trump accusing Tehran of provocations that could draw a military response, ahead of a classified briefing on the tensions.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, will head Tuesday to the US Capitol to apprise lawmakers from both chambers on the latest developments, an administration official said.
Senior officials already briefed a key group of eight lawmakers on Thursday but Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, called for a wider meeting with all elected lawmakers.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who has closely aligned himself with Trump, said he received his own briefing Monday from National Security Advisor John Bolton, a longtime hawk who called for an attack on Iran before taking his White House job.
“It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq,” Graham tweeted.
“If the Iranian threats against American personnel and interests are activated we must deliver an overwhelming military response.”
A Democratic lawmaker, Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona, quickly challenged Graham and said he had seen the same intelligence.
“That is not what is being said. This is total information bias to draw the conclusion he wants for himself and the media,” Gallego tweeted.
Another Democrat, Senator Chris Murphy, accused the Republicans of twisting the intelligence “to make it sound like Iran is taking unprovoked, offensive measures against the US and our allies.”
“No one should defend the actions Iran has taken – they’ve been out of control for years – but dumb wars start when each party mistakenly believes that the other party’s defensive or reactive actions are actually offensive and proactive,” Murphy tweeted.
He did not go into more detail, but some analysts and diplomats say Iran is making a predictable response to the United States, which has tried to stop all of its oil sales and designated its elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group.
Last week Yemen’s Huthi rebels – who are backed by Iran and are being bombarded by US ally Saudi Arabia – claimed responsibility for a drone attack on a key oil pipeline inside the kingdom.
The incident came after the mysterious sabotage of four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
The United States has not officially blamed Iran for the incidents but has repeatedly accused Tehran of plotting attacks, especially in Iraq, where Tehran holds wide influence.
Trump a year ago withdrew the United States from a multinational accord still backed by European allies under which Iran drastically scaled back its nuclear work in return for promised sanctions relief.
Trump warned on Sunday: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again.”
But he appeared to downplay the threat of Iran on Monday, telling reporters when asked about the Iranian threat to US interests: “We have no indication that anything’s happened or will happen.”
The shadow of Iraq hangs over the intelligence after George W. Bush’s administration, in which Bolton was a key player, inaccurately said that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of destruction as a justification for the 2003 war.