A woman holds a sign during a Jan. 6, 2020, funeral for Qassem Soleimani. (Iran government photo)

Chertoff: Iran May Be ‘Signaling That They Are Ready to Stop’ Escalation with Non-‘Cataclysmic’ Strikes

Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told CNN that he saw the events of the past week as “kind of a classic example of the cycle of escalation… how do you decide at what point you can kind of climb down?”

Chertoff said he hoped tonight’s strikes on two Iraqi bases hosting U.S. forces was the Iranians “signaling that they are ready to stop at this point,” calling it “significant” that “they chose not to hide behind proxies.”

The strikes may have been largely symbolic and “directed at the internal population” as they chose to retaliate in a way that’s “not creating cataclysmic effect that guarantees a U.S. response.” If no Americans were killed, as indicated in initial reports, he said, “there is an opportunity at that point” to de-escalate tensions, but the White House would have to “not dance in the end zone and humiliate the Iranians.”

Chertoff stressed that force protection of all U.S. assets in region should be a high priority for the Defense and State departments — “you really want to dial it up a bit” — and said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Telegram threat to strike the United Arab Emirates or Israel is “holding our allies hostage.”

Chertoff said Iran may have chosen to not strike harder in order to “prevent the U.S. from leaning into taking this to the next level, which is attacking the territory of Iran.”

The biggest Iran threat to U.S. homeland, he said, is the cyber threat, and “certainly they could cause disruption and damage if they took that approach.” It would be more difficult for Iran to conduct a physical attack on American soil as they would need to have capabilities in place that would likely be detected by homeland security, he said.

Chertoff advised that in a “tricky situation” like this the administration needs “to have a clear view of your objectives” including the endgame — and avoid “mission creep” or “muddled messaging.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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