The retired admiral who commanded the SEAL Team 6 raid that took out Osama bin Laden described a retaliatory strike by Iran in the wake of the killing of a top nuclear scientist as all but inevitable.
“The Iranians are going to be in a position where they have to retaliate” against either the U.S. or Israel for the Nov. 27 ambush killing of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh outside Tehran, said retired Adm. William McRaven, a former SEAL and commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.
“I don't see any way around it,” McRaven said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“[Iran is] going to have to save face. And so now the issue becomes, what does that retaliation look like?”
McRaven and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” also expressed concern at how the new Pentagon leadership team installed by President Donald Trump would handle retaliation by Iran.
“I'm actually very concerned about the Trump loyalists who have now gone to work in the Pentagon,” Mullen said.
Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper Nov. 9 and installed Christopher C. Miller, a retired Army colonel and Special Forces officer, in an acting role.
In addition to Esper’s departure, “a host of other people left the building,” posing a challenge to what can be accomplished in the remainder of Trump’s term in office, Mullen said.
He said it was “pretty difficult to think that over the course of 50 or 60 days you can do something constructive; but you can do something that's really destructive.”
Trump has yet to comment on Iran’s threats of retaliation. But on Friday he retweeted a statement from Israeli commentator Yossi Melman that Fakhrizadeh’s death was “a major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”
An elaborate period of nationwide mourning following the death of Fakhrizadeh began in Iran on Sunday.
On Nov. 21, U.S. Central Command announced that an unspecified number of B-52H Stratofortress bombers had flown from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to an unnamed base in the Mideast to “deter aggression and reassure U.S. partners and allies."
On Friday, hours before the death of Fakhrizadeh became known, the Pentagon and the Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, announced that the carrier Nimitz and its strike group had returned to the Gulf region from naval exercises with allies in the Indian Ocean.
The Pentagon and the 5th Fleet said the carrier’s return was unrelated to “specific threats” and was intended to give security and overwatch during the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The threats from Iran escalated Sunday as Fakhrizadeh’s coffin, draped in the Iranian flag and topped with flowers, was transported to a Muslim shrine for prayers and last tributes, Iran’s state Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Interment is expected Monday, according to Iran’s defense ministry.
The main target of Iran’s threats thus far has been Israel, but Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps’ Quds Force, charged that the attack on Fakhrizadeh was carried out “with American bullets,” Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.