Kurilla, CENTCOM nominee: Iran is the biggest ‘destabilizing factor’ in the Middle East

Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of XVIII Airborne Corps, delivers remarks during the change of command of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) on March 5, 2021. US Army Photo

Iran is “the number one destabilizing factor” in the 21-nation region covered by US Central Command, the commanding candidate said on Tuesday.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, the current commander of XVIII Airborne Corps, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Tehran poses “vexing challenges” by expanding its ballistic and cruise missile arsenals and introducing long-range armed drones for its proxies like the Houthis to use in Yemen and its nuclear program.

He “supported any binding agreement” to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.

But he did not go into detail about possible military options when asked about the US response if Iran developed a nuclear weapon.

Attacking Iran’s nuclear capabilities would entail a double danger: the “intellectual knowledge” about the development of nuclear weapons retained by Tehran’s scientists and engineers, and the uncertainty about Iran’s reaction to striking those capabilities. .

If Iran deploys nuclear weapons, other regional powers like Saudi Arabia could decide to build their own nuclear arsenals, he added, endangering peace in the Middle East.

In addition to its missile arsenal and secret nuclear program, “Iran has a very capable cyber capability” that could carry out ransomware attacks beyond the Middle East, Kurilla said.

“We must be lucid” about the threats posed by Tehran in what “remains a dangerous theater”, he noted. Kurilla added that the Iranians are “trying to hide their behavior” in using organizations like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Houthi and Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria to advance their goals, citing their shipments of ballistic missiles and weapons. advanced cruises to the Houthis to strike the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and missiles and drones to Iraqi militias to strike US bases there.

Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, current commander of CENTCOM, told the Middle East Institute last week that America’s allies and partners must actively pursue integrated air and missile defense to defend against Iran and its proxies.

Kurilla said Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system offers opportunities to bolster those defenses. He added that it was found to be 90% effective in tests carried out by two American batteries.

Adding Israel to CENTCOM’s area of ​​responsibility will “help” deal with Iranian threats, he said. Kurilla said if more Arab nations join the “Abraham Accords” with Israel as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have done, it would open up more economic development and job opportunities in the Middle East.

The agreements “are a very good thing,” he said. “They’re lowering the temperature in the room” in the long-running dispute between the Arab-Israeli nations.

He added that joining the Abraham Accords could be an effective way to counter China’s aggressive sales of its “belt and road” infrastructure initiative in the region.

Kurilla said 18 countries in the region have already signed up to these projects, ranging from ports to airfields and highways. A few have also embraced the development of high-tech telecommunications from Chinese companies like Huawei to expand 5-G availability. Saudi Arabia and several others have explored arms sales with the Chinese.

On Afghanistan, he testified that ISIS-Khorasan “does not yet have the capability” to attack the United States. But, like al-Qaeda, it has rebuilt its strength since the Taliban took control this summer. Kurilla said he “should do a background study” to see if there was “room for a relationship” with the Taliban government in the face of ISIS and other terrorist organizations. He also saw opportunities to work with Pakistan and Central Asian countries against terrorist organizations that operate on both sides of the Afghan border.

The “biggest challenge” in over-the-horizon surveillance of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan “is having to ‘rely on another country’ to base long-range unmanned aerial systems and it is ‘resource-intensive’ to find and repair activities.

To illustrate the strain on assets, he said the MQ-9 Reaper drone is capable of flying for 30 hours; but in Afghanistan, it now takes 10 flight hours to position it and more time to pull back.

Maintaining constant surveillance over a specific area would therefore require multiple MQ-9s. When he served in Afghanistan, he told the panel he “had up to a dozen targets on a regular basis.”

Without going into details, Kurilla said he understood negotiations were underway with a number of countries to get closer to Afghanistan. He added that the command and other agencies were trying to restore intelligence on the ground.

In response to questions from several senators, Kurilla said minimizing or minimizing civilian casualties in a U.S. military operation harms our relationships with other nations and can fuel insurgencies.

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