Iranian Supreme Leader’s Tweet Suggests A Revenge Drone Assassination Of A Golfing Trump
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was slapped with a Twitter suspension for the image that called for revenge against the former U.S. president.
An image highly suggestive of a drone targeting former U.S. President Donald Trump on a golf course in a “vengeance” strike in retaliation for the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani led Twitter to ban an account for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today. The U.S. military killed Soleimani in a drone strike in Iraq in January 2020, which had already prompted public threats from Iranian officials, including against Trump specifically.
Twitter took action to suspend the @khamenei_site account around 15 hours after the post with the image first appeared on January 21, 2020. Another official account, @Khamenei_tv, currently remains publicly visible. The same post was also removed from the Supreme Leader’s page on Instagram, which Facebook owns, but that account also remains accessible to the public. The image, which is now circulating widely online, remained visible for a while longer on the Twitter account of Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news outlet, before being taken down there, as well.
The offending image depicts what appears to be the shadow of one of Iran’s flying wing-type unmanned aircraft — designs that are supposedly derived, at least in its shape, from a captured U.S. RQ-170 stealth drone — some of which are capable of dropping small munitions, looming over a figure that seems clearly intended to represent Trump as he takes a swing on a golf course. On his first day out of the White House, Trump headed to the Trump International Golf Club West Palm Beach, Florida.
While the image is presumably not expected to be taken entirely literally, it is worth remembering that using a drone to assassinate a leader is not restricted to the realms of fantasy. Indeed, back in 2018, The War Zone examined in detail just such an assassination attempt on the Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro. This, though unsuccessful, proved that the threat posed, in particular, by small drones is very real and is only likely to grow as we enter the era of the “drone swarm.”
The apparent anti-Trump image also includes text, in Farsi, that says “Vengeance: Soleimani’s murderer and he who ordered it will have to pay,” with the first word written in red. In December 2020, Khamenei declared that “revenge is certain” over Soleimani’s death. The Supreme Leader’s remark came ahead of the first anniversary of the U.S. drone strike in Iraq that killed Qasem Soleimani, then head of the Quds Force, the division of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for militant and terrorist activities outside of the country.
“Those who ordered the murder of General Soleimani as well as those who carried this out should be punished. This revenge will certainly happen at the right time,” Khamenei tweeted on December 16 last year, although he did not specifically mention Trump, who had ordered the strike.
“Do not presume that someone, as the president of America, who appeared as a murderer or ordered a murder, may be immune from justice being carried out. Never,” Ebrahim Raisi, Chief Justice of Iran, said during a more recent event on New Year’s Day. “Those who had a role in this assassination and crime will not be safe on Earth.”
“It’s even possible that there are people inside your home [the United States] that will respond to your crime,” Esmail Ghaani, who became head of the Quds Force after Soleimani’s death, had said at the same gathering.
At the time of the drone strike, the then U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Soleimani posed an “imminent” threat and that his assassination had “saved American lives.”
“At my direction, the United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number-one terrorist anywhere in the world, Qasem Soleimani,” Trump said in a statement following the strike.
Days after the U.S. drone strike, Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile attack launched against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. While no U.S. troops were killed in the raid, more than 100 were treated for traumatic brain injury. However, despite a strongly worded threat from Trump, there was no direct U.S. military response to the raids.
While talk of “revenge” for the killing of Soleimani has been a recurrent motif ever since the drone strike, there was no retaliatory action on the anniversary of the assassination. As a deterrent to possible Iranian action, the U.S. military stepped up its activities in the Persian Gulf region, including regular overflights by B-52 bombers and the rare announcement of the deployment of one of its four Ohio class guided-missile submarines, or SSGNs, through the highly strategic and often tense Strait of Hormuz.
The use of a drone as part of the imagery posted by Khamenei and elsewhere follows large-scale military drills held in Iran in recent weeks, which focused on unmanned systems and missiles, including some previously unseen weapons. The maneuvers included launching medium-range ballistic missiles over 1,000 miles into the Indian Ocean in a claimed anti-ship ballistic missile test, the missiles coming down 100 miles from the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group. Among the new unmanned capabilities showcased was a drone-launched Sidewinder missile clone that reportedly successfully brought down an aerial target.
Meanwhile, Tehran’s war of words with the United States shows little sign of abating despite Trump leaving office. After President Joe Biden was sworn in on January 20, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh called for action and “not just words” in a Twitter post, adding that “The world knows that only the US can fix itself.”
Prior to being suspended by Twitter — a fate that also befell Trump himself, earlier this month, after his supporters stormed the Capitol — Khamenei had also had a recent close call with the microblogging platform. On January 9, Twitter removed a post of Khamenei that erroneously suggested that U.S. and British-made vaccines against COVID-19 were “completely untrustworthy” and that “It’s not unlikely they would want to contaminate other nations.”
The backdrop to these ongoing tensions between Iran and the United States include Trump’s decision in 2018 to walk away from the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers that sought to limit Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Instead, Washington reimposed sanctions that have had a significant effect on the Iranian economy and which have in turn been used by the Iranian regime to mobilize hostility toward the United States. However, Biden has said that Washington could rejoin the nuclear deal if Iran resumes strict compliance.
Whatever course relations between Iran and the United States take under President Biden, it seems that the shadow of the Trump administration might remain present in more ways than one.
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