Iran Is the ‘Greatest Long-Term Threat to Stability,’ Army General Warns

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Iranian servicemen pray during the Paratrooper's platoon competition for airborne squads, part of the International Army Games 2016, at the Rayevsky shooting range outside the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, Russia, August 8, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Iran increasingly poses a threat to U.S. interests because of its "destabilizing role" in the Mideast, the nation's top military official in that region told House lawmakers Wednesday. Commander of the U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told the House Armed Services Committee that Iran's behavior was provocative and potentially "unsafe." 

Votel told the House committee that Iran's behavior has not improved since Tehran and Washington agreed to a deal limiting Iran's nuclear development.

"I believe that Iran is operating in what I call a gray zone," he said. "And it's an area between normal competition between states—and it's just short of open conflict."

He cited Iran's "lethal aid facilitation," the use of "surrogate forces" and cyber activities, CNBC reported. “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability in this part of the world,” he said.

Votel, who oversees more than 80,000 soldiers on land, sea and air in the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as operations to defeat the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan, said the U.S. must 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," he said. "We need to look at opportunities where we can expose and hold them accountable for the things that they are doing.

"We must make sure that we are postured for purpose in this region," Votel said. "We must have a credible, ready, and present force."

In 2016, there were 300 incidents where Iran harassed U.S. military and other vessels in international waters off its coast. The exchanges could be considered "unprofessional" or "unsafe," he said.

"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," he said, adding, "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."

Most recently, a U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots at five Iranian vessels in January after the boats approached the USS Mahan and two other U.S. ships entering the Strait of Hormuz.