Iran is taking a “step back” after seeming to prepare an attack on U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, Gen. Frank McKenzie, who commands American forces in the Middle East, said Thursday.
“I don’t actually believe the threat has diminished,” McKenzie said, according to The Associated Press. “I believe the threat is very real.”
McKenzie said he was keeping the option open to bring in more U.S. forces to defend against an Iranian attack, according to The AP. He’s the head of U.S. Central Command and spoke to reporters from the Baghdad headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
U.S. redeployments to the Persian Gulf have “caused the Iranians to back up a little bit, but I’m not sure they are strategically backing down,” McKenzie said according to The AP.
McKenzie has positioned surveillance aircraft to better monitor the Persian Gulf and Iraq, where 5,200 U.S. troops are on the ground, he said. He also added more aerial patrols by land- and carrier-based fighters to look at Iran.
“We’re working very hard to walk that line,” McKenzie said, contrasting “deterrence” with “needlessly” provoking Iran, according to The AP.
“Cumulatively, all of these have caused them to sort of step back and recalculate the course that they apparently were on,” he said.
McKenzie’s comments come after allegedly Iran-linked incidents that have caused alarm in the U.S. in recent weeks. The incidents include the alleged sabotage of four oil tankers in the Persian Gulf in May.
The damaged ships were Saudi, Norwegian and Emirati, according to The Washington Post. United Nations ambassadors from those countries communicated with UN Security Council members Thursday. While they did not name Iran, they said their investigators believe a separate country sent divers to plant mines on the vessels, reported The AP.
In addition, a missile that some trace to Iranian-backed Iraqi militias landed less than one mile from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on May 19.
Iran, the fifth largest oil producer in the world, was not happy when the U.S. did not renew waivers earlier in May for eight countries to import Iranian oil despite sanctions, reported The Washington Post. Iran, the U.S., and countries including the United Kingdom and France signed the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, and have been searching for a new normal after President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in May 2018.
Trump railed against what he called “the military-industrial complex” when asked about potential conflict with Iran during an interview with Steve Hilton of Fox News Channel May 19.
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