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Iran Plots Revenge, U.S. Says
The U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, officials said, amid an expanding array of reprisal threats across the region.
Military officials have been trying to predict the range of possible responses from Syria, Iran and their allies. U.S. officials said they are on alert for Iran’s fleet of small, fast boats in the Persian Gulf, where American warships are positioned.
U.S. officials also fear Hezbollah could attack the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and on Friday the State Department ordered nonessential U.S. diplomats to leave Lebanon because of security concerns.
The department has instructed nonessential staffers to leave Beirut and urged private U.S. citizens to depart Lebanon.
The step had been under consideration since last week when President Barack Obama said he was contemplating military action against the Syrian government for its alleged chemical weapons attack last month.
The U.S.is also pulling diplomats out of Adana, Turkey and is recommending that U.S. citizens “defer nonessential travel” to southeastern Turkey.
While the U.S. has moved military resources in the region for a possible strike, it has other assets in the area that would be ready to respond to any reprisals by Syria, Iran or its allies.
Those deployments include a strike group of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and three destroyers in the Red Sea, and an amphibious ship, the USS San Antonio, in the Eastern Mediterranean, which would help with any evacuations.
The U.S. military has also readied Marines and other assets to aid evacuation of diplomatic compounds if needed, and the State Department began making preparations last week for potential retaliation against U.S. embassies and other interests in the Middle East and North Africa.
U.S. officials began planning for a possible strike on Syrian regime assets after the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus in which the U.S. says Syrian government forces killed over 1,400 people using chemical weapons. The U.S. military has prepared options for an attack and beefed up its military resources in the region, including positioning four destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean.
That process slowed last weekend when Mr. Obama said he would first seek an authorization for using military force from Congress.
A delay in a U.S. strike would increase opportunities for coordinated retaliation by groups allied with the Assad government, including Shiite militias in Iraq, according to U.S. officials.
The destroyers positioned in the Eastern Mediterranean are equipped with—in addition to Tomahawk missiles that could be used against Syria—the Standard Missile-3, which could be used to intercept ballistic missiles should Iran launch a retaliatory strike, officials said.