Speaking at the 2017 Reagan National Defense Forum in California, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster said that “about 80 percent of Assad fighters are Iranian proxies in Syria to establish a land bridge over into the Mediterranean,” as he warned of the “prospect of Iran having a proxy army on the borders of Israel,” The National reported on Sunday.
The national security adviser was among a group of senior Trump administration officials, including CIA director Mike Pompeo, that spoke at length about the dangers posed by Iran’s “hegemonic aims” in the region at the security forum on Saturday. McMaster stated, “What the Iranians have done across the Middle East is fuel and accelerate cycles of violence so that they can take advantage of chaos and weak states to make them dependent on Iran for support.” He assigned blame to the Obama administration for failing to contain the mullah regime in Tehran without mentioning names. “In recent years, what we can say in retrospect, it was unrealistically hopeful [US] strategy that, given the nuclear deal – that this president called worst deal ever – that this deal will result in an Iran that would integrate effectively in region. The exact opposite happened,” he said.
McMaster continued, “The fact that we were trying to accommodate Iran has empowered Iran across the globe, and when president says he inherited a mess that is in greater Middle East, we have to address growing Iranian capability, and their use of militias, proxies and terrorist organization.” Pompeo, meanwhile, confirmed that he recently sent a letter to Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s (IRGC) foreign operations arm, to issue a stark warning that the U.S. was determined to roll back Tehran’s proxies across the Middle East. “I sent a note. I sent it because he had indicated that forces under his control might in fact threaten US interests in Iraq,” the CIA chief said. Pompeo added, “He refused to open the letter. It didn’t break my heart to be honest with you. What we were communicating to him in that letter was that we will hold he and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control. We wanted to make sure he and the leadership in Iran understood that in a way that was crystal clear.” The CIA chief also referred to the changing dynamics in Iraq, after the Kurdish independence referendum in September and the attack on Peshmerga-controlled territory by Iranian-backed militia. “You need to only look to the past few weeks and the efforts of the Iranians to exert influence in northern Iraq, in addition to other places in Iraq, to see that Iranian efforts to be the hegemonic power throughout the Middle East continues to increase,” Pompeo concluded. Kurdish officials have warned that their people could face another genocide at the hands of the growing alliance between Iraq and Iranian forces in the region, if the West fails to throw their support behind them.