Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps discussed attacking a US military base, according to the Associated Press. The Fort McNair Army base is a 10-minute drive from the White House and is located in the US capital. The National Security Agency intercepted the communications in January and they include discussions of using some kind of explosive-laden boat as was used in a 2000 attack in Yemen against the USS Cole.
“The intelligence also revealed threats to kill Gen. Joseph M. Martin and plans to infiltrate and surveil the base, according to the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss national security matters and spoke on condition of anonymity. The base, one of the oldest in the country, is Martin’s official residence,” the report says.
It was not clear how advanced the threat was or how high level the officers involved were or if they had the means and opportunity, skills or even ability to carry out such an attack.
However, two intelligence officials described the report to the AP. “They said Tehran’s military commanders are unsatisfied with their counterattacks so far, specifically the results of the ballistic missile attack on Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq in the days after [Qasem] Soleimani’s killing. No US service members were killed in that strike but dozens suffered concussions.” The report came amid discussions of providing more security for the base and restrictions in the area.
Iran’s Tasnim media highlighted the report, which could indicate Iran approves of this type of attack or wants to message a threat to the US.
“According to the two intelligence officials, the US military has sought to strengthen the security of Fort McNair after the revelation of the plan,” the report notes. “The US military is working to increase the [security buffer] area of Fort McNair from 250 feet (about 76 meters) to 500 feet (more than 150 meters), but Washington officials say the move will give the public access to the Potomac River.” This would limit access to the Potomac, an important river that once gave its name to part of the Union Army forces in the US Civil War.
US military bases have been threatened in the past.
These threats usually come from jihadists inspired by al-Qaeda or ISIS. In 2009, there was a shooting at Fort Hood and a plot to attack Fort Dix in 2007. In 2019, there was a terrorist attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola that was inspired by al-Qaeda. Iran has been accused of hosting senior al-Qaeda leaders in the past.
In November 2020, The New York Times reported that Israel, acting at the behest of the US, coordinated the killing of al-Qaeda’s number two, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah al-Masri, in Tehran. He was a mastermind behind attacks on US embassies in the 1990s.
It’s not clear if Iran may have learned from al-Qaeda about the use of USS Cole-style attacks and the attack on US bases by jihadists in the US and whether the IRGC was inspired by these acts to plan a brazen attack on Fort McNair. Iran usually uses proxies in places like Iraq to attack US bases and doesn’t usually want to use actual Iranians to carry out its plots because it wants to pretend the attacks are local.
Iran has vowed revenge for the US killing of IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani. Iran labeled US Central Command a “terrorist” organization after the US labeled the IRGC “terrorists” in April 2019.
Any link to Iran in an attack on a US base would likely lead to a major US response. Iran would likely be reticent to carry out such an attack. It might conceivably use proxies or provide means to others to do such an attack.