The American military presence in the Gulf used to be a serious threat but now represented a “target” and and “opportunity”, a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander said, raising the rhetoric as US forces head towards the region.
A former top US defence official, meanwhile, warned on Sunday of a “real risk” of a miscalculation between the two sides as the war of words intensifies.
The US military has deployed forces, including an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers, to the Middle East in a move US officials said was to counter “clear indications” of threats from Iran to its troops in the region.
The USS Abraham Lincoln is replacing another carrier rotated out of the Gulf last month.
“An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past. But now it is a target and the threats have switched to opportunities,” said Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guard’s air force.
“If [the Americans] make a move, we will hit them in the head,” he added, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
Speaking to CNBC in an interview to be broadcast on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the military deployments came in response to intelligence about potential Iranian attacks and aimed both to deter them and to be able to respond if necessary.
“We’ve seen this reporting,” Pompeo said. “It’s real. It appears to be something that is current, that is things we’re worried about today.
“In the event that Iran decided to come after an American interest – whether that be in Iraq or Afghanistan or Yemen or any place in the Middle East – we are prepared to respond in an appropriate way,” he said, adding “our aim is not war”.
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William Fallon, former commander of the US Central Command, told Al Jazeera he does not expect the situation between Iran and the US to escalate despite “the media hype”.
Fallon said tensions between Tehran and Washington have been ongoing for decades and he saw no serious outcome despite all of the recent heated rhetoric coming from both sides.
“Ridiculous reporting” is exaggerating the situation in the Gulf when in fact it’s the same scenario militarily as it has been for years between the arch rivals, he noted.
“The US has been coming in and out of the Gulf for decades and is committed to open, clear and free passage of ships in the Gulf,” said Fallon.
Iran’s parliament held a closed session on Sunday to discuss the developments in the Gulf.
Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, who heads the influential parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, told the official IRNA news agency Iran isn’t looking to deepen the crisis.
He said the US position will weaken with time, and there are currently no grounds for negotiations with Washington.
Major-General Hossein Salami, appointed head of the Revolutionary Guard last month, told parliament the United States had started a psychological war.
“Commander Salami, with attention to the situation in the region, presented an analysis that the Americans have started a psychological war because the comings and goings of their military is a normal matter,” his spokesman Behrouz Nemati said.
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Robert Gates, former US defence secretary, told CBS News a miscalculation by military forces in the Gulf was a “very real risk right now”.
Gates said a conflict between the United States and Iran would have “tremendous unforeseen consequences in the Middle East” that would be “very, very dangerous”.
United Arab Emirates said four commercial ships were subjected to “sabotage operations” on Sunday, but didn’t identify who was responsible.
The incident in the Gulf of Oman came as the United States has warned ships that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said “things are heating up” in the Gulf.
“If there’s some sort of conflagration between Iran and the United States, between Iran and its neighbours, I’m not ruling out that they will activate Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad from Gaza, or even that they will try to fire missiles from Iran at the state of Israel,” Steinitz, a member of the security cabinet, told Israel’s Ynet TV.
Al Jazeera’s Ali Younes contributed to this report