U.S. Defense Secretary reiterated on two Sunday morning talk shows that the elimination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, in an air strike helped prevent a bigger attack on U.S. targets that would have led to more dangerous, open conflict between the two rival nations.
“We had information that there was going to be an attack within a matter of days, that would be broad in scale, in other words more than one country, and that it would be bigger that previous attacks, likely going to take us into open hostilities with Iran,” Mark Esper said while speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” news program.
That attack was being orchestrated by Gen. Soleimani, who has been leading the attacks against America for 20 years now, Esper told Margaret Brennan. “So we had every expectation to believe that this would happen.”.
Esper said that a “very senior” member of the U.S. intelligence community had said the risks associated with doing nothing to prevent the attack was greater than the risk of taking action against the strongman of the Iranian military. “That was compelling for me,” he added.
The secretary said intelligence was briefed to a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both houses who are known as the “Gang of Eight.” While Esper himself didn’t sit in on the briefing, he said he spoke to one of the intelligence briefers who was in on the meeting.
“What the briefer said to me, coming out of that meeting, was his assessment that most if not all of the members thought that the intelligence was persuasive,” Esper said.
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” news program, Esper said he thinks the threat of direct action against the United States by Iran has diminished, but that Iranian “malign behavior” is likely to continue.
“What we have got to do though is get back to a position where they will come sit down with us (for talks),” Esper told Jake Tapper. He said the international community wants Iran to act and behave like a normal country.
For that Tehran must eschew nuclear weapons program, long-range ballistic missiles, hostage taking and support to proxy groups, according to the head of the U.S. Defense.
In the opinion of Esper, the United States is safer today than it was just a few weeks ago.
However, a number of opinion polls conducted last week is contrary to this assessment. More than half of Americans who took part in surveys by ABC, Reuters and USA Today said they feel the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani made the United States less safe.
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