Iran is posing the greatest threat to regional security and stability, the head of Centcom said on Wednesday.
Speaking on a webinar, “Centcom and the Shifting Sands of the Middle East,” for the Middle East Institute, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Jr. outlined the threats perceived from Iran:
- Funding and arming terrorist organizations;
- Propping up the “murderous regime” of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad;
- Providing advanced weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen;
- Direct attack on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz;
- Direct attack on oil refineries in Saudi Arabia; and
- Attacking U.S. troops in Iraq.
“Iran actively stokes instability and is intent on degrading security all over the region. They use proxies and violence to push other nations in the region to their agenda,” McKenzie said.
The State Department leads the effort to put pressure on Iranian leaders diplomatically and through sanctions. The U.S. wants to make the Iranians renounce their nuclear ambitions, stop work on ballistic missiles and cease exporting terrorism against their neighbors. This is a whole-of-government approach that includes allies and partners.
The role of the Defense Department regarding Iran is to deter them from taking direct or indirect military actions against the US and its allies and partners in the region.
Iranians were surprised by the U.S. killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in January, causing them to recalculate where they draw the red line with the United States.
“They see we have the will to act,” McKenzie said.
Outside of Iran, terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Qaida still want to attack the United States, its allies and the U.S. homeland. Applying vigorous pressure is what prevents these terrorists from taking action.
Now that China and Russia are involved in the region, they are trying to use economic leverage to make sure their influence is felt. Russia is propping up Assad, as they see it as a valued ally that has a warm-water port.
The response from the U.S. is to build close relationships with nations in the region, helping to build security forces and encouraging the purchase of U.S. foreign military materiel.
Potential threat to the coalition and partner forces in the region could come from small unmanned aerial systems that can transport weapons. The Army is leading the development of counter-UAS measures.
The United States is less dependent on Middle East oil now, but we want to ensure the freedom of navigation for our partners and allies. McKenzie specifically mentioned the importance of ensuring safe passage through the Red Sea, Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab Strait.