US general calls Iran 'greatest threat' in Middle East

Iran’s malignant influence is the most significant threat to Middle East security, according to the top U.S. general in the region.

Iranian soldiers on parade. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Middle East remains a highly unstable region, ripe for continued conflict, Army Gen. Joseph Votel warned the Senate Committee on Armed Services Thursday. Of the multitude of challenges in the region, Iran is the primary concern in the long term, according to the general.

“We are also dealing with a range of malign activities perpetrated by Iran and its proxies operating in the region,” said Votel. “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world.”

He added that Iran’s support of the Assad regime in Syria and exploitation of Shia Muslim population centers are parts of its “malign influence.”

Votel’s assessment comes after a significant increase in Iranian provocation in the Middle East over the last several months. Iranian naval vessels harass U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf using boat swarm tactics and the regime in Tehran continues its fiery rhetoric against the U.S. and its allies.

Iran has also continued to support various proxy groups across the Middle East, including the Houthi rebellion in Yemen, which is actively engaged against the U.S. and Saudi-supported government. The Popular Mobilization Units, a conglomerate of mostly Shia militia units backed by Iran, continue to play a major role in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, allowing Iran to continue to entrench itself in the Iraqi government.

“Since Iran cannot strike the U.S. homeland conventionally the way the United States can strike the Iranian homeland with near impunity, Tehran seeks ways to balance the deterrence equation by threatening U.S. interests worldwide through proxy terrorism and asymmetric operations,” said J. Matthew McCinnis, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who specializes in Iranian strategy, while testifying before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in December.

McInnis added that Iran will likely continue to use proxy groups as a means of deterrence against the U.S., meaning Votel and the U.S. military will likely continue to face an Iranian threat for some time to come.

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