The United States should consider using “military means” against Iran, US Army General Joseph Votel says, calling Tehran “the greatest long-term threat to stability” in the Middle East.
Votel, who heads the US Central Command (CENTCOM), made the hostile remarks while speaking before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
“I believe that Iran is operating in what I call a gray zone, and it's an area between normal competition between states — and it's just short of open conflict,” he told the panel.
Votel went on to accuse Iran of “destabilizing” the region through “lethal aid facilitation,” using “surrogate forces” and cyber operations.
“We need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt [Iran] through military means or other means their activities,” he said. “We need to look at opportunities where we can expose and hold them accountable for the things that they are doing.”
The general’s statements fall in line with the anti-Iran rhetoric of US President Donald Trump, who has accused Iran of supporting terrorism and said "nothing is off the table" in terms of a response to the country’s defensive missile program. Trump has also said that his administration formally put Tehran "on notice" over its missile test.
As the commander of CENTCOM, Votel is tasked with leading Washington’s military efforts in Central Asia and the Middle East. More than 80,000 US soldiers are stationed across the area under Votel’s command.
The general also oversees the US-led coalition’s airstrikes and other military operations against purported terrorist targets inside Syria and Iraq, a campaign that began in 2014 and has led to the death of many civilians without any meaningful achievement.
Votel’s comments came less than two weeks after a deadly coalition strike that killed over 200 civilians in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
The Pentagon has admitted to carrying out such “unintentional” raids against civilian targets in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen as well.
Additionally, Washington has come under pressure for forging a close military and political alliance with Saudi Arabia, ignoring the regime’s bloody war on Yemen and its clear support for extremist groups.
This is while the international community has constantly hailed Iran’s active role in curbing the terrorism threat plaguing the region.
Persian Gulf encounters
In his testimony before the lawmakers, Votel also discussed the recent surge in Iran-US military encounters in the Persian Gulf, saying his team was “paying extraordinarily close attention” to the issue.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)’s Navy has on several occasions forced US Navy vessels to change course before wandering into Iranian territorial waters.
The last of such encounters occurred earlier this month, when a US Navy ship and three British Royal Navy boats steered out of the course approved for international naval transit in the Persian Gulf and came within 550 meters (0.3 nautical miles) of IRGC vessels, drawing serious warnings from them.
Iran has repeatedly warned that any act of transgression into Iran’s territorial waters would be met with an immediate and befitting response.