Iran warns US allies may become targets if they partake in American counterattack

Posted on : 2020-01-09 18:19 KST Modified on : 2020-01-09 18:19 KST
S. Korean Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry hold emergency countermeasure meeting
Footage of an Iranian missile being fired at Iraq’s Al Asad Airbase, which houses US troops, broadcasted on Iranian state TV on Jan. 8. (Yonhap News)
Footage of an Iranian missile being fired at Iraq’s Al Asad Airbase, which houses US troops, broadcasted on Iranian state TV on Jan. 8. (Yonhap News)

Shortly after launching missiles at military bases housing US troops in Iraq on Jan. 8, Iran warned that countries taking part in an American counterattack would also be targets. This warning adds another variable to the South Korean government’s deliberations about deploying forces to the Strait of Hormuz. If the situation deteriorates, countries participating in the US-led defensive coalition in the Strait of Hormuz could be targeted in an Iranian attack. Seoul is keeping tabs on the threat of war in the Middle East, with the Ministry of National Defense (MOD) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) holding an emergency countermeasures meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

In a statement released shortly after the attack on the Iraqi military bases hosting US troops, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said that American allies that take part in an American counterattack and countries hosting American military bases could be targets. The same statement also mentioned Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Tel Aviv and Haifa in Israel as possible targets. The South Korean Akh Unit (consisting of 150 soldiers) is training special forces in the UAE, while the Dongmyeong Unit (350 soldiers) is stationed in Lebanon, on the border with Israel, with the UN Peacekeeping Forces.

Iran is believed to have the strongest missile capacity in the Middle East region. According to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a UK-based think tank, Iran has the capacity to launch missile strikes not only throughout the Middle East but as far as Turkey, Egypt, and India. Because Iran’s air force is inferior to that of Israel and Saudi Arabia, the report said, Iran has concentrated on building up its missile capacity.

The South Korean government is prioritizing the safety of its citizens residing in the Middle East. The military is reportedly looking into what equipment would be necessary to protect or evacuate them in the event of a crisis. MOFA has determined that there are currently 1,570 South Koreans in Iraq, 290 in Iran, and 700 in Israel. Reports indicate that most of the South Koreans in Iraq, where the storms of war are gathering, are employees at construction firms working at Karbala Refinery and Bismayah New City.

“We’re keeping a close watch on the situation while bearing several possibilities in mind. We don’t think we’ve reached the stage where evacuation should be considered yet,” said a MOFA official.

On the afternoon of Jan. 8, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha held a video conference with the heads of diplomatic missions in Iran, Iraq, and other countries in the Middle East in order to discuss potential actions.

US strengthens push for S. Korea to deploy forces to Strait of Hormuz

Under these circumstances, the US is once again pushing South Korea to send forces to the Strait of Hormuz. During an interview with KBS on Jan. 7, US Ambassador Harry Harris said he hopes that South Korea will deploy troops to the Middle East, which South Korea relies on for much of its energy needs. The US has made that request to South Korea on several previous occasions, including meetings between top defense officials, but this was the first time it brought up the issue publicly. The implication is that the request for a troop deployment has become an urgent goal for American policy. The US has a greater need to highlight an international coalition against Iran and to bolster its military position in the Middle East. There is even speculation that troops or equipment with US Forces Korea could be temporarily reassigned to the Middle East prior to a South Korean troop deployment.

The increasing urgency of the American request for a troop deployment places the South Korean government under more pressure to make a decision. Since South Korean President Moon Jae-in voiced his desire to improve inter-Korean relations during his New Year’s address, some think that the US could link those efforts to the deployment in the Strait of Hormuz. North Korea and the deployment are believed to a major part of the agenda of high-level security deliberations between South Korea, the US and Japan on Jan. 8, which were attended by Chung Eui-yong, director of the Blue House National Security Office. South Korea and the US are reportedly arranging a meeting between South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in San Francisco next week.

By Yoo Kang-moon, senior staff writer, and Kim So-youn and Noh Ji-won, staff reporters

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