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February 8, 2021 5:04 pm

CENTCOM Commander Says US Has Reached ‘Contested Deterrence’ With Iran, Shares Threat With Saudi Arabia

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US CENTCOM commander Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. walking with IDF Chief of Staff LTG Aviv Kohavi. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

The head of the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) said Monday that the US has achieved a state of “contested deterrence” with Iran through its presence in the Middle East.

Speaking to the Middle East Institute, CENTCOM head Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said US actions in the region had sent a “clear and unambiguous signal of our capabilities and will to defend partners and US national interests, which has been clearly received by the Iranian regime.”

McKenzie discussed Iran’s continued aggression in Yemen, where Iran backs the Houthi militia in its attempt to overthrow the recognized government, and is being opposed by a Saudi-led military coalition. The situation is largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

He said that the US interest in Yemen was limited to a “counter-terrorism interest” against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS.

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“American national interest begins and ends there,” he said. “We’re not a party to the Yemen civil war.”

The comments came after a week in which the Biden administration ended US support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen and told Congress it would rescind the Houthis’ designation as a terrorist group.

However, McKenzie also struck a note of reassurance, saying that the US will “continue to support the Saudis as they defend themselves” against Iran, particularly from attacks on Saudi territory emanating from Yemen.

“There’s a common threat there, and that common threat is Iran,” he added.

McKenzie also addressed the US military’s recent shift of responsibility for relations with Israel from the European Command to CENTCOM, which placed Israel together with the Arab states aligned against the Islamic Republic. He noted that CENTCOM already conducts “a lot of business” with Israel on threats coming from the Middle East, and that the change was on one level “a natural recognition of that at the operational level.”

But he highlighted the potential impact on contesting Iran of the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and nations like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. McKenzie visited Israel late last month to discuss the Accords with his counterparts there.

The agreements, McKenzie said, may in time “allow further corridors and opportunities to open up between Israel and Arab countries in the region.”

This could further a long-term US ambition, he suggested, fostering “a collective approach to security” in which the countries in the region can increasingly ensure their own security and stability.

“I think this is a step in that direction,” he said.

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