Rogue elements within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seek to escalate tensions with the U.S. Navy in the strategically crucial Persian Gulf, according to the top U.S. commander in the Middle East.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), warned that recent provocations by Iran against U.S. Navy vessels in the Gulf are due to certain “rogue commanders” who pose a threat and could potentially lead to a violent outcome.
“90 percent of these unsafe, unprofessional activities we see come from the Iranian Quds Force navy vessels,” Votel told reporters during a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday. “They don’t come from the general Iranian navy, only a very small percentage of them do.”
Iranian naval vessels harassed several U.S. Navy vessels last week, engaging in dangerous high speed maneuvers. In one instance, the USS Squall was forced to fire three warning shots near one of the Iranian boats before it moved away.
Votel explained that the dangerous encounters are the result of certain Iranian leaders seeking to “exert their influence and authority in the region.” He said that such actions will actually have the opposite effect, and that no other professional military in the region engages in such reckless behavior.
Iran’s IRGC Navy is primarily responsible for patrolling the Persian Gulf. It is separate from the traditional Iranian navy in that it reports to Supreme Leader Ali Khameni, as opposed to Iran’s elected officials. The IRGC is comparatively hard-line in its activities and harbors a fanatic disdain for America, because of its direct ties to the supreme leader.
The Quds Force, the IRGC’s special operations group, is particularly aggressive compared to other Iranian military units. While Votel did not name any of the rogue Iranian leaders specifically, Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani is a well-known anti-American provocateur who has claimed he is responsible for Iran’s policy in the Middle East.
Despite the issues with Iranian leadership, Votel assured reporters that the problem does not lie with the Iranian populace.
“It’s not about the Iranian people, it’s about the Iranian regime,” said Votel, “and their desire to continue to do these kinds of things that stoke, or attempt to stoke, instability in the region.”
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