US Centcom Commander: International alliances are solution to Iran’s bullying

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Strategic international alliances are successfully countering Iran’s malign behavior in the Middle East, according to US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Kenneth McKenzie.

“Sometimes the Iranian regime has proved itself to be the bully in the neighborhood. And the only way to stand up to a bully is to do it together,” McKenzie said in an address at the annual IISS Manama Dialogue summit on Saturday.

Iran has been the primary threat to maritime security in the Middle East in recent months, according to McKenzie, due to the regime’s attempts to hamper navigation around the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has threatened to close the Strait and Iran’s military forces have confiscated merchant ships from several countries.

The US-led International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) - which includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain - was formed following attacks on oil tankers widely attributed to Iran. The IMSC is an alliance that aims to ensure freedom of maritime navigation and international trade in the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, the Red Sea, and the Straits of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandeb.

McKenzie said the IMSC has proved to be successful in foiling Tehran’s bad actions.

“Had Iran not undertaken those [ship seizure] actions, there might not have been a need for the IMSC. But since it has been operational, none of these actions have occurred,” said McKenzie.

While the IMSC may be deterring Iran’s maritime misbehavior, McKenzie said as the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran increases, he expects the regime may do something irresponsible in return.

“It is possible they [the Iranian regime] will do something that is is possible that they will lash out at their neighbors. They have demonstrated that they act irresponsibly,” said McKenzie in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

McKenzie mentioned the September 14 attack on Saudi Aramco oil facilities, saying evidence is “clear and compelling” the attack emanated from Iran.

Iran denied it orchestrated the attacks and the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen claimed responsibility. McKenzie said Iran’s strategy of unaccountability is no longer working now that there is additional reconnaissance assets in the region.

“The Iranian regime has conducted many non-attributable attacks in the past when they didn’t think anyone was looking. They prefer the darkness, where their activities can be hidden. They don’t do so well in the spotlight or daylight of full exposure,” said McKenzie.

The US responded to the attack by reinforcing ally Saudi Arabia with Patriot missile systems, ground radars, and other capabilities, according to McKenzie.

“We are working with the Saudis to increase the networking of their systems that will make them better able to defend against these types of threats,” said McKenzie.

RELATED: UAE’s Gargash: Middle East instability caused by foreign interference

McKenzie said that Iran needs to know that it is not going to be productive in the long-term if the regime chooses to act out in the military domain.

“That’s the message we [CENTCOM] are trying to convey to Iran - through the forces we brought in [to the region], through the reinforcements to Saudi Arabia, through the consultations with our allies,” said McKenzie.

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