Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, called out Iran as one of the greatest threats to the region during a recent appearance on Capitol Hill.
"We are dealing ... with the range of malign activities perpetrated by Iran and its proxies operating in the region," Votel told members of the Senate Armed Services committee March 9 in his opening remarks. "It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world."
The commander's remarks echo the sentiments of other high ranking officials within the Trump administration, most notably Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
"The Iranian regime, in my mind, is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East," Mattis said during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., almost a year ago.
Iran and its proxy agents like Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia terror organization trained and funded by Iran, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, have been operating in regions of weak governance throughout the Middle East, occupying a power vacuum in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.
Last fall, Houthi rebels fired sophisticated Iranian supplied anti-ship missiles at a U.S. destroyer of the coast of Yemen, provoking a U.S. retaliatory cruise missile strike at radar installations on the Yemeni coast controlled by the Iranian-backed rebel group, according to a report in the New York Times.
The recent provocations highlight Iran’s bellicose attitudes towards Washington and the new Trump administration.
Early this March, Iranian fast boats harassed the USNS Invincible, a U.S. surveillance ship operating in the Persian Gulf, on two separate occasions.
"I believe Iran seeks to be the regional hegemon, to be the most influential country in the region," Votel said.
The incident with the Invincible in the Gulf came on the heels of reports that Iran had violated a U.N. Security Council resolution by testing medium-range ballistic missiles, including a test firing of its newly acquired, Russian supplied S-300 air defense system.
"No other nation operates the way they do in the Arabian Gulf; nobody does that in the Arabian Gulf," Votel said, responding to questions from Nebraska Sen. Debra Fischer regarding Iran’s maritime behavior. "They need to be held accountable for that, and they need to be exposed for those types of unprofessional unsafe and abnormal activities."
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.