"What I see is this is principally the regime leadership trying to exert their influence and authority in the region," Army Gen. Joseph Votel said. "And they are trying to do it in provocative ways that are unsafe, unprofessional and really I think work against their -- their objectives in the long term here."
WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – The top U.S. general overseeing military operations in the Middle East said Tuesday that he has not seen a “significant change” in Iranian behavior since the Iran nuclear accord was signed last year, and that Iran’s hostility in the Arabian Gulf is unlike what the U.S. is seeing from any other country.
“What I see is this is principally the regime leadership trying to exert their influence and authority in the region,” U.S. Central Command head Army Gen. Joseph Votel said during a news briefing from the Pentagon. “And they are trying to do it in provocative ways that are unsafe, unprofessional and really I think work against their — their objectives in the long term here.”
About 90 percent of the “unsafe, unprofessional activities” were carried out by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy vessels, a sect of the armed forces controlled by hard-line clerics closely affiliated with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Votel said.
“This is, in my view, is not about the Iranian people,” Votel said. “It’s about the Iranian regime and their desire to continue to do these types of things that stoke instability or attempt to stoke instability in the region.”
The Obama administration has hailed the historic accord, which exchanged international sanctions relief for limits on Iran’s nuclear program, as a step toward diplomacy with Tehran.
Votel warned that an uptick in the hostile interactions between the U.S. Navy and the IRGC in the Arabian Gulf could lead to an international incident.
“I think the big concern here is miscalculation, that I’m very confident in the measures that our maritime forces are taking. They are measured. They are deliberate in the things that they are doing, but ultimately we are going to protect ourselves if that comes to a situation,” Votel said.
Should an interaction in the future escalate, the American sailors would “prevail,” he said.
In at least three separate incidents last week, IRGC Navy vessels harassed U.S. ships operating in international waters in the Gulf, approaching them at high speeds and within close proximity.
In one case, the USS Squall fired three warning shots into the water after IRGC vessels did not respond to radio calls or warning flares, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said.
Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan has said his nation has the right to investigate or confront foreign vessels near its shoreline.
In December, Iranian ships fired rockets near U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz and flew an unarmed drone over the aircraft carrier the USS Harry Truman. In January, the Iranian navy captured 10 U.S. sailors after their two riverine command boats strayed into Iranian waters while in transit from Kuwait to Bahrain. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart negotiated their release, and Iran released them the next day.
The Obama administration at the time pointed to the quick release of the sailors as evidence that the nuclear accord had improved relations. The President’s opponents said the encounter instead showed that Iran has been emboldened. This criticism resurfaced following the recent interactions in the Arabian Gulf.
“Iran’s actions here are — in the Arabian Gulf, are unlike anybody else… They don’t go out and they don’t drive fast boats towards military vessels out there in the same way that they do,” Votel said.
“What I call on Iran to do is to be the professional force that they claim to be,” he added. “Professional militaries, professional maritime forces don’t operate in that way.”