Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during Friday prayers in Tehran on September 14, 2007.
Morteza Nikoubazl | Reuters
The Supreme Leader of Iran’s website on Friday featured a picture of a golfer resembling former President Donald Trump who was apparently attacked by a drone, along with threats of revenge over the murder of a top Iranian general in a US drone attack last year .
The image first appeared on a Persian-language Twitter feed that included a link to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s website. Twitter removed this feed on Friday, saying it was fake.
Below the website image were remarks from Khamenei in December prior to the first anniversary of the assassination ordered by Trump of military commander General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq.
“Both the murderers and those who ordered it should know that revenge can come at any time,” said the comments at the top of the picture, which showed the shadow of a drone looming over the lone golfer. Trump, who plays golf regularly, was not named.
Tensions between the US and Iran soared after 2018, when Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers and re-imposed crippling sanctions.
Tehran retaliated for Soleimani’s murder with rocket strikes against US targets in Iraq, but both sides withdrew from further confrontation.
The tension and the risk of war seemed to subside with the end of Trump’s tenure. His successor, President Joe Biden, sworn in on Wednesday, said Washington is trying to extend and strengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints through diplomacy.
Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council of the White House in Biden, said, “These types of threats from Iran are unacceptable.”
“We strongly condemn this provocative action. We will continue to work with our friends and partners to counter the malevolent influence of Iran,” she replied to a request for comment.
Senior Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul previously urged the Biden administration “to react quickly and forcefully to this provocative threat from a former president,” and urged Twitter to immediately and permanently remove Khamenei’s account lock.
An official near Khamenei’s inner circle said: “The aim (of the tweet) was to remind the player (Trump) that leaving office does not mean he is safe and the assassination of our martyr Soleimani is forgotten. “
“And now American troops cannot protect him,” the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters without elaborating on it.
Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite quds force, was responsible for clandestine operations overseas and was widely regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iran after Khamenei.
The Iranian military and clergy have said Tehran would choose the time and place of Soleimani’s revenge.
A Tehran-based analyst said the threat could be an end in itself: “The intent of the tweet seems to keep alive the specter of vengeance, which in itself may be some kind of vengeance.”
A Twitter spokeswoman said the @khamenei_site account had been banned for violating the company’s platform tampering and spam policies, particularly against creating fake accounts. When asked if the @ khamenei_site account was fake, she said it was.
Iranian officials were not immediately available to comment.
The Gulf picture tweet was retweeted from Khamenei’s main account in Persian @ Khamenei-fa, although it appeared to have been deleted later. The text and graphics of the tweet, later published by Khamenei’s official website (farsi.khamenei.ir), were also widely quoted by the Iranian media.
Khamenei’s @ Khamenei_fa account and main English Twitter account, which did not include the golfer image tweet, were still operational.
Earlier this month, Twitter removed a tweet from Khamenei saying vaccines made in the US and the UK are unreliable and could “contaminate other nations” for breaking the rules of misinformation.
Activists for rights in exile again called on Twitter to ban Khamenei. “I hope the world can see how they (Iranian officials) can use social media to promote violence,” US-based activist Massih Alinejad told Reuters.
Twitter put Trump’s account on hold after some of his followers’ attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, citing the risk of further incitement to violence.