Ideas. Stories. Community.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Iran Vows Retaliation For Drone Strike On General — And It Has Options


Iran continues to vow revenge for the U.S. drone strike that killed one of its top generals. How and where might Iran strike back? And what are the country's non-military options? Well, to discuss the range of possibilities, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre in studio.

Welcome back.


CORNISH: One military official has said that Iran had a list of 35 U.S. targets in the region. So how likely is it that the country would follow through on its promise to retaliate and look at any of these targets?

MYRE: Well, that's certainly quite likely, and many experts feel Iran is just going to feel compelled to respond with force to the killing of the general, Qassem Soleimani. And that's certainly been their history, and they have these targets - U.S. embassies and military bases throughout the region, the oil tankers in the Gulf. U.S. citizens could be vulnerable to kidnapping. But Iran has also been relatively careful about not provoking major responses from the U.S. They know they can't go toe-to-toe militarily with the Americans. So I spoke about this with Trita Parsi. He's an Iran expert at the Quincy Institute, and he offered this possible scenario.

TRITA PARSI: The Iranians are not going to be in a rush because they want to have the element of surprise. If, in the meantime, the political situation in Iraq leads to the U.S. leaving, it may actually enable the Iranians to declare their little victory and not take any action against the U.S.

CORNISH: So what might the Iranians do to essentially force the American military out of Iraq altogether?

MYRE: So let's call this the political option or option No. 1 for the Iranians that wouldn't involve military force. They know they don't have the firepower, even with the militias they have working for them in Iraq, to drive out 5,000 American troops. But the political atmosphere has changed, with the Iraqi parliament calling for U.S. troops to leave. This reflects the mood in Iraq as the country's looking for a new prime minister and a government. So rather than attacking American targets and, perhaps, encouraging the Americans to dig in and stay, Iran could potentially just sit back and let the Iraqi government tell the American military to leave and see how that plays out. And this would keep the focus on the U.S. presence there.

CORNISH: Now, I also want to ask about Iran's nuclear program because there have been some announcements there. But what's the latest?

MYRE: Iran said on Sunday they are no longer going to honor commitments to limit uranium enrichment under the nuclear deal from 2015. The U.S. pulled out of the deal two years ago, and Iran has been stepping away every 60 days, taking another step.

Now, they haven't pulled out of the deal completely. They're taking these measured steps. They're still going to allow inspectors at their facilities, and they're still enriching uranium at a pretty low level. But they're carrying out this dance with the international community and the Europeans, trying to use this as a bargaining chip. They may be looking for sanctions relief. And the things we should be looking for that Iran could do would be to kick out weapons inspectors or enrich uranium in larger quantities at a higher level.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, are there any other options, anything else on the table that we should be thinking about?

MYRE: Cyber - Iran has some real cyber capabilities. They've hacked the U.S. several times in the past decade - not hugely damaging but noteworthy. Perhaps one of the more memorable cases was against billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who's a big Trump supporter. He called for a nuclear strike against Iran back in 2014. Iran hacked into his Sands Casino in Las Vegas, took it offline - mostly a bit of a mischievous sort of attack, not that sophisticated. But it does show the kinds of things that Iran is capable of doing.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Myre.

Thanks for your reporting.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.