As Iran’s influence and reputation appears to be growing on the world stage, with its ballistic missile tests and human rights abuses, it is becoming increasing clear that stability in the Middle East cannot be achieved without international efforts to contain Iran.
According to Army General Joseph Votal, Commander of the U.S. Central Command, Iran’s behavior was provocative and potentially “unsafe”. Votal made these comments at a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee.
“I believe that Iran is operating in what I call a gray zone,” said Votal. “And it’s an area between normal competition between states – and it’s just short of open conflict.”
His examples including Iran’s use of surrogate forces, cyber activities, providing weapons to various factions in destabilized countries and its support of terrorist organizations, by funding and training. Due to these actions, Iran “poses the greatest long-term threat to stability in this part of the world”, said Votal.
The issue is how to contain Iran and one that has become a source of debate and discussion on the international stage. A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee held a hearing early this week to discuss Iran’s ballistic missile program and how best to counteract them on the international level.
In 2016 alone, there were 300 incidents where Iran harassed U.S. military and other vessels in international waters. But this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Iran has been actively doing to sew discord within the region.
“We are paying extraordinarily close attention to this, but I feel very confident in our ability to protect ourselves and to continue to pursue our missions,” said Votal. “Iran has a role in the region. I want to be clear that we think differently about the people of Iran than we think about the leadership of Iran – the Revolutionary Council that runs Iran. Our concern is not with the people of Iran, it is with their revolutionary government.”
Earlier this year, a U.S. Navy ship Mahan fired warning shots on Iranian boats to signal for them to stay away. The boats came within 900 yards of the Mahan. The boats approached at a high rate of speed, which prompted the warning shots. These tense encounters are continuing in the waters throughout the Gulf, part of a political backlash from Iranian hardliners, including the IRGC.
Votal noted that the U.S. needs to do more to counter Iran’s military ambitions.
“We need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt [Iran] through military means or other means their activities. We need to look at opportunities where we can expose and hold them accountable for the things they are doing,” said Votal. “We must make sure that we are postured for purpose in this region. We must have a credible, ready and present force.”