General Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command, warned Iran on Thursday over what he called its “reckless, unsafe and escalatory” missile strikes in Syria and urged Tehran to use deconfliction channels with the US military.
Speaking to reporters via a phone briefing at the Pentagon, Gen Votel said Iran’s seven drone and six ballistic missiles launched into Syria earlier this week, should have gone through the deconfliction channel, even if indirectly through notifying Russia. The strikes were in the Abu Kamal area “within three miles” of US military presence in that eastern region of Syria.
“I would characterise what they’re doing as reckless, unsafe and escalatory,” Gen Votel said, voicing concerns over “impacts of their activities on our [US] personnel” in Syria.
“The strikes give us a little bit of pause” he added, particularly because they are uncoordinated and constitute “a threat to not only our forces but also to military and civilian air and aviation in the area.”
“Professional militaries deconflict their operations to ensure safety, and Iran took no measures like that in this particular case.” Gen Votel said.
Accusing Iran of building up missile and military capabilities in Syria, he said that US military presence in the country is partly to deter Iran.
“We do play an indirect role in supporting our broader pressure campaign against Iran…and we remain engaged in the region, we remain very committed to the region, and we remain prepared to respond rapidly and massively if the situation requires,” he said.
The head of Centcom also slammed Russia’s deployment of S-300 missile defense system to Syria, calling it “irresponsible”.
“It is a knee-jerk response for the downing of their aircraft,” but a “needless escalation,” he said. He also warned that Russia’s move gives “cover for Iranian and Syrian regime nefarious activities”. He believed that part of the S-300 system has arrived in Syria.
General Votel did not foresee a war between the US and Iran, but reiterated the US commitment to defend its presence and assets in the region. He also acknowledged that the US has military elements in Yemen to support its mission.