US warns of regional conflict as it displays Iranian arms intercepted across Middle East

US special representative for Iran displays weaponry caught in Yemen, Afghanistan and Bahrain

By Joyce Karam

Source: The National (UAE)

 

The US administration sounded the alarm on Thursday about the prospects of a regional conflict fuelled by the spread and reach of Iranian weaponry into the region including to the Taliban, the Houthis and Iran’s proxies in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook delivered a speech at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington D.C. with an exhibition of Iranian Materiel Display (IMD) with Farsi markings shown in the background.

The weaponry included Iranian Sayyad-2C SAM missiles, AK-47s, small arms and debris from an Iranian drone that were caught in Yemen, Afghanistan and Bahrain where he said that Iran is seeking to expand its influence and foment instability.

US Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook (C), speaks at an ‘Iranian Materiel Display’ press conference in a hangar at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, DC, USA, 29 November 2018. EPA

“We are one missile attack away from a regional conflict,” Mr Hook said while pointing at a recent Houthi missile launch that was targeting Riyadh International Airport. He said Iran’s intent is “increasing the lethality and reach of these weapons to deepen its presence throughout the region”.

“The same kind of rockets here today could tomorrow, land in a public market in Kabul or at an international airport,” Mr Hook said.

He also referenced “credible US evidence that Iran is transferring ballistic missile technology to Shia militias in Iraq”.

The US House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that would go after Iran’s support for Iraqi militias.

A large part of Mr Hook’s speech was focused on Yemen following a vote in the Senate to debate and hold another vote next week to block the US role in the war.

Mr Hook warned that “abandoning Yemen right now would be the wrong move”.

He mentioned three vital missions for the US in Yemen: assisting in countering Iran-backed Houthis, fighting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and protecting Americans working in Saudi Arabia. He cautioned that abandoning Yemen may also bring forth Iranian control over the Bab El Mandeb strait.

If Iranian influence is not checked in Sanaa, Mr Hook predicted the “Lebanonization of Yemen” where Houthis would emerge as another Hezbollah.

“Just as we must constrain Iran’s expansion in Syria and into the Golan Heights and in Iraq we must also prevent Iran from entrenching itself in Yemen” he said.

But the US official threw heavy support behind UN envoy Martin Griffiths and his bid for talks in Sweden early next month.

US Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook (C), arrives for an ‘Iranian Materiel Display’ press conference in a hangar at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, DC, USA, 29 November 2018. Hook is walking past what are said to be recovered Iranian Qiam short range ballistic missiles. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER

Asked about US strategy in countering Iran, Mr Hook mentioned sanctions and called on the European Union to improve its enforcement as well as take action on missile sanctions.

Mr Hook did not exclude the military option from the table in dealing with Iran.

“We have been very clear with the Iranian regime that we will not hesitate to use military force when our interests are threatened. I think they understand that, I think they understand that very clearly,” he said.

The US official referenced Iran being behind the Shia militia attacks in Baghdad and Basra in September, and that the US will act decisively and swiftly if its diplomatic facilities are attacked or diplomats are injured. He added, however, that “right now while we have the military option on the table our preference is to use all of the tools that are at our disposal diplomatically”.

Mr Hook’s event was attended by the Ambassador of UAE Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of Bahrain Abdullah bin Rashid Al Khalifa, Yemen’s Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak and other diplomats, US officials and members of the media.