Fears are growing Iran is preparing for confrontation in 2021 after claiming it is now just three months from nuclear breakout. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed it had been notified of Iran’s plans to enrich uranium up to 20 percent purity – just one step away from weapons-grade levels at its secretive underground Fordow facility.
News of the stepped-up nuclear programme came as demonstrators gathered in Tehran’s Tahrir square in response to calls by an assortment of militia groups known collectively as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which are mostly backed and trained by Iran.
The crowds waved flags and chanted anti-American slogans such as “America is the Great Satan”.
The demonstrations in the capital came against a backdrop of soaring tensions between Iran and the US in the last days of Donald Trump’s administration, with many in the crowd demanding revenge for Gen Soleimani’s killing a year ago today.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has urged Mr Trump not to be “trapped” by an alleged Israeli plan to provoke a war through attacks on US forces in Iraq.
Mr Zarif said: “New intelligence from Iraq indicate that Israeli agent-provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli.
“Be careful of a trap, Donald Trump.
“Any fireworks will backfire badly, particularly against your same BFFs.”
An Israeli official dismissed the accusation as “nonsense” and said it was Israel that needed to be on alert for possible Iranian strikes on the anniversary of Gen Soleimani’s death.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the remarks showed Iran, after mounting US sanctions billed as curbing its nuclear programme and involvement in regional conflict-zones, was “under pressure – economic pressure, and pressure in terms of national security”.
He said: “We hear this nonsense by Zarif, that Israel would set off terrorist attacks against the United States – this really is total nonsense.
“But on the other hand it is a warning sign – a warning sign that Iran is taking aim at Israel, is looking for excuses to lash out at Israel.
“And therefore we need to have our finger on the pulse and be at the highest state of alert.”
The leader of an elite overseas unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards died in a US drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport on January 3 last year.
The attack moved US-Iranian hostilities into uncharted waters and sparked fears of all-out war between the two nations.
Washington had accused Gen Soleimani of masterminding attacks by Iranian-aligned militias on US forces in the region.
Tehran, which faces presidential elections in June, blames the US for its economic woes in order to justify draconian rule by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
It continues to launch large-scale cyber attacks at groups opposing the regime, and sponsors the assassination of political opponents on European soil.