Prospect of escalating conflict with Iran grows: ‘There will be more’

The boiling dispute between the U.S. and Iran is growing hotter by the hour, with the Biden administration promising more military action and Iran warning the U.S. to stay away.

An onslaught designed to stop Iran-backed groups targeting American interests started Friday with an air assault in Iraq and Syria, followed by a U.S. and British attack Saturday on 36 Houthi targets in Yemen.

National security officials said Sunday that the moves represented round one in their response to the drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan on Jan. 28.

More military action will come, said White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Mr. Kirby said Sunday that President Biden is going more directly after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“You saw what happened on Friday night, and I’m telling you, that’s not the end of it,” Mr. Kirby said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There will be more.”

SEE ALSO: Biden administration not saying whether a strike inside Iran is in its plans

Pressed for answers about potential strikes within Iran in interviews on Sunday, Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Kirby said they would not preview military action on television broadcasts.

After the attacks on Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Iran issued a warning to the U.S. regarding two cargo ships long suspected of serving as forward operating bases for Iranian commandos.

A video statement released Sunday by Iran’s regular army identifies two vessels, the Behshad and the Saviz, as floating armories intending to counteract piracy. The video ends with a warning narrated over a montage of the American flag and U.S. warships.

“Those engaging in terrorist activities against Behshad or similar vessels jeopardize international maritime routes, security and assume global responsibility for potential future international risks,” the video says.

The Behshad and Saviz are registered as commercial ships with a Tehran-based company that the U.S. Treasury has sanctioned as a front for Iran.

Both ships have loitered for years in the Red Sea off Yemen, in potential spy positions for the IRGC. The Behshad is docked in Djibouti, just off the coast from a Chinese military base.

Precisely what the U.S. would do next was unclear. Hawkish critics of Mr. Biden’s foreign policy, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, wanted the military to aim straight at Iran.

Mr. Graham advocated on Sunday for a strike on an Iranian leader or a cutoff of the Islamic republic’s oil business.

Amid criticism of telegraphing recent days’ attacks, the Biden administration is keen to be seen not announcing the next moves.

Mr. Sullivan indicated that the next steps may be covert.

“There will be more steps,” Mr. Sullivan told ABC. “Some of those steps will be seen, some may not be seen. But there will be more action taken to respond to the … tragic death of the three brave U.S. service members.”

The prospect of additional military action indicates that the threat of escalation is growing and extends well beyond Iran.

The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin joined a collection of Iran-allied forces across the Middle East on Saturday in condemning Mr. Biden’s targeting of anti-U.S. militia groups in Iraq and Syria.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it would ask the U.N. Security Council to investigate those strikes, which the Pentagon said hit 85 targets in seven locations. The Kremlin, echoing statements of Tehran’s allies Hezbollah and Hamas, warned that the U.S. strikes were intended to ignite a wider war with Iran.

“Obviously, the airstrikes are deliberately aimed at fueling the conflict further,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement reported by the official Tass news agency. “Attacking the targets of allegedly pro-Iranian groups in Iraq and Syria nearly nonstop recently, the United States has been deliberately attempting to get the region’s major nations dragged into conflict.”

The Biden administration was preparing for retaliation against Americans, and Mr. Sullivan told ABC that Mr. Biden’s team was prepared to handle any Iranian response.

“From the perspective of Tehran, if they chose to respond directly to the United States, they would be met with a swift and forceful response from us,” Mr. Sullivan said.

• David R. Sands contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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