WASHINGTON — The U.S. is not seeking war with Iran but is ready to deal Tehran a swift blow if its actions in the Middle East harm or threaten U.S. personnel, a key general said Thursday.
“We are well prepared for this, prepared to respond rapidly and massively,” Gen. Joseph Votel told Pentagon reporters on Thursday when asked about rising provocations from Iran.
Votel heads U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for the Middle East, among other areas. He recently returned from a 19-day trip across the region.
“Absolutely we certainly are concerned,” Votel told reporters. “We will hold them accountable if an attack is carried out against our personnel or facilities. We take that seriously and remain vigilant (and are) prepared for that eventuality.”
Votel spoke to Pentagon reporters via a link from Central Command headquarters in Tampa.
On Monday, Tehran fired missiles into Syria in what it said was against targets connected to a September 22 terrorist attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, in southwest Iran. Forty were killed and dozens wounded, according to news reports.
Their targets were east of the Euphrates River, in the Abu Kamal and Hajin regions of Deir al-Zour governorate of Syria — areas where U.S. forces and its coalition partners operate. Some of the missiles landed within three miles of U.S. forces, Pentagon officials said earlier this week.
Votel said the strikes were “reckless, unsafe and escalatory,” and gave the U.S “a little bit of pause” over the danger to U.S. personnel in Syria.
He said they were uncoordinated and unannounced, creating a threat “not only our forces but also to military and civilian air and aviation in the area.”
Votel said Iran could have used its communications channels with Russia to notify forces in the region prior to the strikes. U.S. and Russian commanders maintain such a deconfliction line and the Russians could then have warned the Pentagon to take safety precautions, Votel said.
There is no direct link between the U.S. and Iranian militaries. “Professional militaries deconflict their operations to ensure safety, and Iran took no measures like that in this particular case,” Votel said.
Votel also criticized Russia’s sending of a S-300 missile defense system to Syria, calling it “irresponsible” and a “needless escalation” of the conflict.
“It is a knee-jerk response for the downing of their aircraft,” Votel said. Sending the S-300 provides even more cover “for Iranian and Syrian regime nefarious activities,” he said.