US President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the top US military general for the Middle East said Tuesday that sanctions relief could benefit Iran’s support for proxies and terrorism in the region.
“There is a risk with sanctions relief that Iran would use some of that money to support its proxies and terrorism in the region. And if they did, it could increase risk to our forces in the region,” Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Kurilla, 55, leads the 18th Airborne Corps, including the Army’s response forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He said he was heading to Europe after the hearing due to Biden’s order to deploy members of the 18th Airborne Corps to Europe in support of Ukraine.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the CENTCOM leader, is in the UAE for talks on increasing US help to Gulf countries following several missile and drone attacks on Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
Asked about the Houthis, Kurilla said: “Iran funds the Houthis.”
Asked why there had been a significant increase in Houthi attacks on the UAE, Kurilla said his personal opinion was that the advances of the Giants Brigades in areas like oil-rich Shabwa province drove the Houthis to up their attacks.
When asked what he would do if he was sitting in Abu Dhabi and had missiles and drones being fired at him, Kurilla said he would use Patriot missile defense systems to shoot them down.
He added that “one of the advances” the US could look at would be to increase the integrated air and missile defense in the region of Washington’s partners and allies.
Kurilla voiced concern over China’s growing influence in the Middle East. He cited 18 of 21 countries in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility (AOR) signing strategic agreements for Belt and Road Initiatives.
The military official also said three of the top purchases of China’s UAVs are from the Middle East. “They have increased spending by 360 percent in the Middle East over the last year,” Kurilla said.
He also said it was worrying that five major Middle Eastern countries had agreements with China’s telecoms giant Huawei.
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