WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. needs to consider military action to disrupt Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, which have intensified since the Islamic Republic signed a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, a top American commander warned American lawmakers.
Former President Barack Obama and other supporters of the nuclear deal argued that it would promote peace and avoid military confrontation.
The Central Region, or CENTCOM AOR, spans more than 4 million square miles that cover 20 predominantly Muslim nations that stretch from Northeast Africa across the Middle East to Central and South Asia.
In his written testimony, Gen. Votel declared:
Iran poses the most significant threat to the Central Region and to our national interests and the interests of our partners and allies.
We have not seen any improvement in Iran’s behavior since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), addressing Iran’s nuclear program, was finalized in July 2015.
Over the past year, after the nuclear deal was signed, the U.S. military has been dealing with Iran and its proxies carrying out “a range of malign activities” in the Central Region, namely in “Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, the Sinai, and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait [located between Yemen and Djibouti and Eritrea] and in other parts of our area of responsibility,” declared Gen. Votel.
Democrat Congresswoman Jacky Rosen from Nevada asked the top U.S. general during the hearing, “Do you believe Iran has increased destabilizing activity since the JCPOA?”
“I do believe they have,” responded Gen. Votel, adding in his written remarks:
Unfortunately, the [nuclear] agreement has led some to believe that we have largely addressed the Iranian problem set and that is not the case. In addition to its nuclear weapons potential, Iran presents several credible threats. They have a robust theater ballistic missile program, and we remain concerned about their cyber and maritime activities, as well as the activities of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Forces (IRGC-QF) and their network of affiliates, [including their narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah].
Since the nuclear agreement was signed, Iran has been “clearly focused” on expanding its influence and power in the Central Region, noted Votel.
“Recognizing that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests in the Central Region, we must seize opportunities to both reassure our allies and shape Iran’s behavior,” he pointed out, adding, “Through both messaging and actions, we must also be clear in our communications and ensure the credibility of U.S. intentions.”
To disrupt Iran’s growing threat, the U.S. must consider military action and other ways, proclaimed Gen. Votel.
“I’ve had an opportunity to talk with some of our regional partners about it,” he said. “I think we need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt through military means or other means, their activities.”
“In addition to ready military actions, we must support the broader USG [U.S. Government] strategy with regard to Iran which should include new diplomatic initiatives that provide Iran with viable alternatives to its present course,” he conceded.
The U.S. general did stress that Iran must be aware that there will be consequences if it continues its malign and provocative activities.
“The point that I would emphasize to you is that while there may be other more strategic or consequential threats or regions in our world, today, the central region has come to represent the nexus for many of the security challenges our nation faces,” warned the CENTCOM commander.
“Most importantly, the threats in this region continue to pose the most direct threat to the U.S. homeland and the global economy. Thus it must remain a priority and be resourced accordingly,” added Gen. Votel.
The Af-Pak region is home to the largest concentration of U.S. and United Nations-designated terrorist groups — 13 in Afghanistan and seven in Pakistan, according to the U.S. military.
Moreover, “the Middle East remains the global epicenter of terrorism and violent Islamist extremism,” wrote Gen. Votel.
Citing the Institute for Economics and Peace’s 2016 Global Terrorism Index, he testified that “the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) AOR accounted for 78% of all terrorism incidents worldwide.”