Iran is persisting in its goal of “regional hegemony” despite the killing of its military mastermind, Qassem Suleimani, in January, the head of the US Central Command said.
Kenneth McKenzie said that Iran is continuing to “contest” US presence in the Arabian Gulf, but also is aware of the cost of military confrontation.
“Since the exchange in January, we are in a period of contested deterrence,” Gen McKenzie said, referring to Iran's retaliatory missile attacks on US forces in Iraq after a US drone strike killed Suleimani in Baghdad on January 3.
“Iran still holds its goals for regional hegemony and, as part of that, they are intent on ejecting the United States from the region,” Gen McKenzie told a media briefing.
“That is very much still alive and well. But I think there is a period of rough deterrence that remains in place,” he said.
Gen McKenzie was speaking from an undisclosed location during a Middle East tour, where he has visited Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Kuwait.
He said Iran was “calculating” how to undermine the US presence “without crossing a red line”.
“I don’t think Iran ever doubted our capabilities, but sometimes doubted our will,” he said.
“I would argue that after the events in January, Iran is newly sensitive to our will and our willingness to use [our] forces.”
Iran executed several people on Tuesday, including a man accused of spying for the CIA inside the Islamic republic and passing information on Iran's missile capabilities to Washington.
The Iranian judiciary also announced that the death sentence passed on Mahmoud Mousavi Majd, another Iranian who was found guilty of espionage last month, was set to go ahead.
Majd was accused of spying on Iran's armed forces and helping the US to locate Suleimani and kill him.
Iran retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq, but US President Donald Trump opted against responding militarily.
While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al Asad did not kill US personnel, dozens suffered brain trauma.
Iran in February handed down a death sentence to Amir Rahimpour, another man convicted of spying for the US and conspiring to sell information on Iran's nuclear programme.
Tehran announced in December it had arrested eight people "linked to the CIA" and involved in nationwide street protests that erupted the previous month over a surprise petrol price rise.
It also said in July 2019 that it had dismantled a CIA spy ring, arrested 17 suspects between March 2018 and March 2019 and sentenced some of them to death.
Mr Trump at the time dismissed the claim as "totally false".
Relations between the foes have worsened since 2018, when Mr Trump abandoned an international accord under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions.
The US reimposed sanctions to throttle Iran's oil trade and pressure Tehran to renegotiate the deal, give up its ballistic missiles, and cease its involvement in regional wars.
The Trump administration has taken a hard line with the United Nations to push it to strengthen an arms embargo on Iran, saying that lifting it would allow Tehran to acquire weapons that could fuel conflicts in the Middle East.