Centcom chief: Iran still aiming for regional dominance despite Suleimani killing

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - 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,” Mr 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 of ejecting the United States from the region,” Mr McKenzie told the 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 by phone.

Mr McKenzie was speaking from an undisclosed location during a Middle East tour, where he has already 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 for Mahmoud Mousavi Majd, another Iranian who was found guilty of espionage last month, was also set to go ahead.

Majd was accused of spying on Iran's armed forces and helping the US to locate Soleimani, the top Iranian general killed later in an American drone strike in Baghdad.

Iran retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq, but US President Donald opted against responding militarily.

While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad left no US soldiers dead, dozens suffered brain trauma.

Iran in February handed down a similar sentence for Amir Rahimpour, another man convicted of spying for the US and conspiring to sell information on Iran's nuclear programme.

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels near US Military ships at close range. EPA

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels near US Military ships at close range. EPA

The US Navy accuses Iran of conducting 'unsafe' actions close to US warships. EPA

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels near US Military ships at close range. EPA

The US Navy accuses Iran of conducting 'unsafe' actions close to US warships. EPA

A handout photo made available by the US Naval Forces Central Command / US 5th Fleet via the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) shows Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels near US Military ships. EPA

The US Navy accuses Iran of conducting 'unsafe' actions close to US warships. EPA

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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 hike.

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".

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Arab Coalition seizes new Iranian missile shipment off Yemen coast

Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir and US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, check the display of the debris of ballistic missiles and weapons which were launched towards Riyadh, according to Saudi Officials, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 29, 2020. Reuters

US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook and Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir arrive to attend a joint news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 29, 2020. Reuters

US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook speaks during a joint news conference with Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir (not pictured), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 29, 2020. Reuters

Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir and US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook attend a joint news conference, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 29, 2020. Reuters

Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir and US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook look at the display of the debris of ballistic missiles and weapons, which were launched towards Riyadh, according to Saudi Officials, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 29, 2020. Reuters

Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir speaks during a joint news conference with US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 29, 2020. Reuters

US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook speaks during a joint news conference with Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 29, 2020. Reuters

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Relations between the longtime 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 United States has 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 hardline 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.

Updated: July 14, 2020 07:32 PM

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