Pentagon on the lookout for new ways to pressure Iran

A report in British media that Iran was behind a cyber attack carried out on the country's parliament earlier this year comes a day after the UK government urged the United States not to further endanger the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran.
US President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran deal from the Diplomatic Reception room of the White House in Washington, DC, on Oct 13, 2017.
US President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran deal from the Diplomatic Reception room of the White House in Washington, DC, on Oct 13, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • The United States military is identifying new areas where it could work with allies to put pressure on Iran in support of President Donald Trump's new strategy, which promises a far more confrontational approach towards Teheran.

Mr Trump struck a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement last Friday in defiance of other world powers, choosing not to certify that Teheran is complying with the deal and warning he might ultimately terminate it. He also promised to address Iran more broadly, including its support for extremist groups in the Middle East.

Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Defence Department spokesman, told Reuters that the Pentagon was assessing the positioning of its forces, as well as its planning, but offered few details.

"We are identifying new areas where we will work with allies to put pressure on the Iranian regime, neutralise its destabilising influences and constrain its aggressive power projection, particularly its support for terrorist groups and militants," he said.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis said his first goal would be to talk with US allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere to gain a shared understanding of Iran's actions.

"Certainly we intend to dissuade them from shipping arms into places like Yemen and explosives into Bahrain and the other things they do with their surrogates, like Lebanese Hizbollah," he said.

Still, a more aggressive approach to Teheran could trigger a backlash from Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and forces that it backs. That includes Iraq, where US troops are fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Mr Mattis said the US was watching for any new provocations from Iran. Asked whether he thought Teheran might retaliate, he said: "It would be ill-advised for them to attack us."

The US' options to increase pressure on Iran include more aggressive interceptions of Iranian arms shipments, such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Pentagon could also direct US naval forces to react more forcefully when harassed by armed IRGC speedboats.

The Pentagon last Friday detailed a series of major concerns about Iran, including its ballistic missile development and cyber attacks against the US and its allies. The Times newspaper reported yesterday that Iran carried out a cyber attack on British lawmakers earlier this year, citing an intelligence assessment of the incident.

The Pentagon promised to review US security cooperation activities with allies in the region, something that could lead to alterations in US arms sales and military exercises.

It also signalled a willingness to re-examine the positioning of the roughly 70,000 American troops the Pentagon says are stationed in the Middle East.

Still, Mr Mattis said: "Right now we are not changing our posture."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 15, 2017, with the headline 'Pentagon on the lookout for new ways to pressure Iran'. Print Edition | Subscribe