CENTCOM Commander Gen. Erik Kurilla. File photo 2022

Senior US General: ‘Iran Not Paying A Cost,’ Remains ‘Undeterred’

Friday, 03/08/2024

Amid Iran-backed Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, the head of the US military's Central Command says Tehran is escaping accountability for its nefarious activities across the Middle East.

“Iran is not paying a cost,” CENTCOM Commander Gen. Erik Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Repeated retaliatory strikes by US and UK forces – meant to limit the capacities of the Houthis to target ships – have so far failed to deter the militant group from hitting one of the world's busiest trade lanes.

This week alone, a Houthi missile attack killed three civilian seafarers on a merchant ship, marking the first deaths caused by the group's attacks on merchant vessels.

The Iranian regime-backed group started attacking ships in the Red Sea in November in what they say is a campaign in solidarity with Palestinians during the war in Gaza.

CENTCOM needs POTUS approval to sink Iranian ships

Republican Senator Sullivan questioned Gen. Kurilla on why the US hasn't escalated its response to these attacks by targeting Iranian spy ships, which provide intelligence used to harm American sailors.

The CENTCOM Chief maintained he is not authorized to take action against Iranian naval vessels – without permission from POTUS to do so.

In response to largely Democratic lawmakers raising the alarm of a confrontation with Iran and the risk of “escalation”, parallels were drawn several times to Operation Praying Mantis.

That military operation on April 18, 1988, saw the US retaliate for the Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War.

Republican lawmakers insisted that the US was able to destroy Iran’s naval capacity with that operation, without risking a wider war.

While Democratic Senator Jack Reed expressed optimism regarding a temporary pause in Iran-backed attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria, Gen. Kurilla maintained several times that Iran continues to be undeterred in its support to the Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas, and factions in the West Bank.

Despite these concerns, forceful words on Iran were notably absent from President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech on Thursday night.

For numerous analysts, this mirrors the absence of a coherent US policy aimed at deterring Tehran from its malicious activities throughout the Middle East.

Former CENTCOM Chiefs critical of US approach

But, Republicans aren’t the only critics of the current strategy to contain Iran’s proxy attacks.

Several high-ranking former senior armed forces officials have gone on record with their criticism for the lack of accountability the regime in Tehran faces.

Retired Vice Adm. John Miller, who oversaw all US naval activities in the Middle East until 2022, told POLITICO that his country is “not taking this seriously” and “not deterring anybody right now”.

Ret. Gen. Frank McKenzie, who commanded US forces in the Middle East during both the Trump and Biden administrations, also told the same news outlet recently, that Iran perceives the absence of a robust US military reaction to the recent Houthi attacks as encouragement to persist in its aggressive actions.

“We’ve given them no reason not to continue [attacking],” he said of the Houthis.

In an interview with Breaking Defense, Gen. Joseph Votel voiced his view that problems started when the US administration under President Barack Obama decided to “pivot” to Asia and reduced its involvement in the Middle East region.

The former US Central Command chief said that the administration focused only on brokering an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, which neglected the growing threat of its proxy groups in the region.

Meanwhile, the leader of Yemen’s Houthi militia seemingly bragged about his group’s missile striking capabilities in a televised speech on Thursday.

“In [Wednesday’s] strike, there was amazement at the precision of the attack and the power of damage,” Abdul Malik Al-Houthi said.

“Discovering ships and hitting them with such precision using ballistic missiles for the first time is an achievement in every sense of the word”, he said.

More News