AP – DUBAI, United Arab Emirates As tensions increase, Iran-backed militias may begin operations against the United States and its allies in the area, the top U.S. Air Force general in the Middle East said on Thursday. These strikes might trigger a fresh escalation in the conflict in the region.
Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich expressed concerns about the spread of Russian and Chinese influence as superpowers compete for economic and military influence in the Middle East while speaking to journalists prior to taking up his new position at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which includes responsibility for military operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and throughout the region.
He cited recent U.S. information as an example, saying that it “is not a surprise… but it’s alarming” that Iran is getting ready to supply Russia both armed and unarmed drones to use in its assault on Ukraine.
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An inquiry for comment was not immediately answered by the Iranian representation to the UN.
Speaking at a time when regional tensions remain high over Iran’s rapidly expanding nuclear program and talks to revive Tehran’s nuclear deal with international powers are at a standstill, Grynkewich, who had previously served as director of operations at Central Command in Tampa, Florida, thousands of miles from the baking desert outside of Doha, the capital of Qatar, spoke.
“We’re in this position where we’re not under attack constantly, but we do see planning for attacks ongoing,” Grynkewich said. “Something will occur that unleashes that planning and that preparation against us.”
Last month, Iran conducted a satellite-launching rocket test, which prompted the White House to threaten further penalties on Tehran in an effort to stop Tehran from developing more sophisticated ballistic missiles. And last week, Iran showcased armed drones aboard its warships in the Persian Gulf while President Joe Biden visited the area.
Tehran has increased its stockpile of nuclear fuel with a near-weapons-grade in recent months, raising concerns about a potential escalation. Additionally, it has operated more sophisticated centrifuges that are forbidden by the historic nuclear agreement, which former President Donald Trump reneged on in 2018.
Everyone in the area, according to Grynkewich, is really worried.
A tenuous cease-fire between the Saudi-led military coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen has continued, he said, and an ongoing government formation process in Baghdad has kept Iran-backed militias in limbo, waiting for the political turbulence to settle before they strike. Still, he claimed, U.S. forces have seen a decrease in targeted attacks across the region in recent weeks.
We are currently in a state of stasis, according to Grynkewich.
Grynkewich noted that Russia is attempting to maintain the leverage it gained from years of military intervention in the region, such as in Syria where it helped save President Bashar Assad’s government and turn the tide of the war in his favor. The U.S. has increased its focus on containing and countering Russian and Chinese influence in the region as other threats fade, he added.
“Shows a bit more of a relationship than we’d like them to have, given the context of everything going on in Ukraine,” Grynkewich said of an apparent reversal in the military ties between Russia and Iran. Moscow may be interested in buying drones from an established customer of its own military hardware.
Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran on a rare trip abroad and won staunch support from Iran for the war that has plunged the Kremlin deeper into confrontation with the West.
Meanwhile, China’s significant economic inroads in the region have raised concerns about the country’s plans “to secure those interests either through arms sales or other means,” Grynkewich said. In China, many Gulf Arab states have found an investor that won’t lecture them about human rights concerns.
Despite appearances to the contrary after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. isn’t quitting the region, Grynkewich insisted, a case Biden made repeatedly on his Mideast tour last week.
With tens of thousands of American forces stationed across the Arabian Peninsula and some still in Iraq, as well as America’s superior military power, Grynkewich said, the U.S. is trying to convince its allies that, “if you partner with us, you’re getting to get a relationship that’s much more deep and meaningful.”