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US national security adviser refuses to rule out attacks on Iranian soil

Jake Sullivan said the US would continue to 'respond forcefully' to attacks on it soldiers and interests, adding the retaliatory strikes are 'the beginning, not the end’
Ambulances carrying the bodies of people killed the previous day in US strikes in western Iraq, arrive ahead of their funeral procession in Baghdad on 4 January 2024 (AFP)

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has refused to rule out air strikes on Iranian soil in the wake of a barrage of attacks on Iran-linked groups across the Middle East.

Speaking to NBC News on Sunday, Sullivan was repeatedly asked if the US was considering attacks on Iran.

"Well, sitting here today on a national news programme, I'm not going to get into what we've ruled in and ruled out from the point of view of military action," he said.

"What I will say is that the president is determined to respond forcefully to attacks on our people. The president also is not looking for a wider war in the Middle East."

Pressed again on the question, he continued to avoid a direct answer.

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"I'm not going to get into what's on the table and off the table," he said, before adding the strikes were "the beginning, not the end" of Washington's response.

The US, along with the UK, launched strikes on Yemen's Houthis overnight, hitting dozens of targets, just a day after they hit a number of Iran-linked groups in Syria and Iran.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed the strikes on Houthi targets were in self-defence, adding he would not "hesitate to protect British lives."

"Since the last set of strikes, we have seen the Houthis continue to attack shipping in the Red Sea," Sunak said during a visit to Northern Ireland.

"That is obviously unacceptable. It is illegal. It puts innocent people's lives at risk and it has economic consequences. It includes attacks, by the way, on British-linked vessels. And that is why we have acted again in self-defence, in a proportionate way, and together with our allies.

"I have been clear that I won’t hesitate to protect British lives, British interests, and our diplomatic efforts are focused on bringing de-escalation and stability back to the region."

US and UK 'fuelling chaos'

Iran-aligned groups have launched more than 160 rocket and drone strikes against US troops in Iraq and Syria since mid-October following the 7 October attacks on southern Israel and Israel's decision to go to war on Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Houthis, have mounted dozens of attacks against merchant ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, severely disrupting traffic through one of the world’s most important maritime trade routes.

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The Houthis have promised to continue disrupting Red Sea traffic until Israel stops its attacks on the residents of Gaza and allows humanitarian aid and basic supplies to enter the besieged enclave.

A Houthi military spokesperson said on Sunday that the rebel group, also known as Ansarullah, would not be deterred, adding that the strikes on Yemen would "not pass without a response and consequences."

Iran on Sunday warned that the strikes across the region appeared to "contradict" the stated desire by the leaders of the US and UK that the fighting in Gaza not expand into a regional war.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanani, said in a statement that the attacks were "in clear contradiction with the repeated claims of Washington and London that they do not want the expansion of war and conflict in the region".

He said the two countries were "fuelling chaos, disorder, insecurity and instability" by supporting Israel in its war in Gaza, which has so far left at least 27,365 people dead, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

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