The U.S. has been beefing up its military presence surrounding Iran while at the same time strengthening channels of communication with Israeli military brass. Several experts have expressed their belief that all this is justified and a regional conflict pitting several countries against Iran is “probable.”
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, recently warned that Iran has set a precedent for aggression.
“I think the strike on Saudi Aramco in September is pretty indicative of a nation that is behaving irresponsibly,” the general said in an interview with Foreign Policy. The attack carried out by 18 drones and three missiles destroyed half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production capability. “My judgment is that it is very possible they will attack again.”
I wouldn’t discount anything from Iran,” he said. “When a nation behaves that irresponsibly, you have to be very cautious when you evaluate what they might do in the future.”
McKenzie noted that Iran increased its military spending from its recent low in 2014 to $27.3 billion, or six percent of GDP, in 2018. This increase was undoubtedly fueled by the removal of economic sanctions as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal. After former President Obama signed the agreement, billions of dollars flooded into Iran.
Iran has also been blamed for other attacks. In June, Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. President Trump ordered a military strike against IRGC radar and missile sites but ordered the military to stand down at the last moment. That same month, the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks that damaged two tankers as they transited the Strait.
A series of similar attacks using magnetic mines has targeted tankers in the Strait since the summer.
The White House is taking the possibility of an attack quite seriously. Under Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, the Pentagon has deployed 14,000 more troops to the Middle East since May to cope with what he called a “multiple…credible threats by Iranian regime forces.” The Pentagon released a statement at the time the increased military presence was in response to “indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and our interests.”
In addition, the US dispatched an aircraft carrier and tens of thousands of pounds of military equipment and artillery to the Persian Gulf region in response to potential Iranian threats. The carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln transited the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday.
At the same time, Israel continues airstrikes against Iranian military targets inside Syria. Last Tuesday, the Israeli Iron Dome System shot down four rockets Iranian forces fired at the Golan from Syria. Israel responded with an airstrike that destroyed the headquarters of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force in Syria, killing 23 combatants.
Having Iran as a common enemy brought together U.S. and Israeli military brass. Within the last few weeks, Israel has hosted US Air Force commander Gen. David Goldfein, the commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa Commander Gen. Jeffery L. Harrigian, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. Last Wednesday, newly appointed Defense Minister Naftali Bennett spoke on the phone with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu quoted McKenzie during the cabinet meeting, adding that what the US general said was true and that Iran was planning not one attack but “additional attacks.”
Perhaps most significant was an unannounced trip to Iraq by Vice President Mike Pence for a special briefing on the situation on the Syrian-Iraqi border at the US Al-Asad Air Base. Pence met with Kurdish Republic (KRG) president Nachirvan Barzani.
Debka File, an Israeli military intelligence website, suggested that the meeting “signified the revival of the US-Kurdish alliance – not just with the Syrian branch but also with their Iraqi brethren.”
“Indeed, the outcry over the Trump administration’s desertion of the Syrian Kurds in the wake of the Turkish invasion earlier this month neatly camouflaged the substantial influx of US troops arriving in the Kurdish regions of eastern Syria this month. American encampments there, far from being evacuated, have been substantially augmented by new military facilities, two of them airbases.”
Debka noted that with a military outbreak seemingly imminent, the alliance between the U.S. and Israel could take on an unprecedented form with U.S. troops and IDF fighting side-by-side.
“On this point, American and Israel’s strategic interests converge, especially when both anticipate hostilities exploding in this part of the Syria-Iraq border in the near future, and the importance of this region growing in the coming weeks and months.”
To add even more fuel to the fire, Iran is currently being wracked by civil unrest. Unofficial reports from various sources say that from 15 to 19 November, about 200 people were killed and 3,000 injured by government troops trying to quell protests. Several Iranian officials blamed the riots on incitement from Israel and the U.S.