Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The Iranian military is unlikely to intentionally provoke a conflict with the West, the top U.S. military intelligence official said today.
Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said Iran probably has the ability to “temporarily close the Strait of Hormuz with its naval forces,” as some Iranian officials have threatened to do if attacked or in response to sanctions on its oil exports by the U.S. and European Union.
“Iran has also threatened to launch missiles against the United States and our allies in the region in response to an attack,” Burgess said in testimony prepared for a hearing today of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It could also employ its terrorist surrogates worldwide. However, it is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict or launch a preemptive attack.”
Iran has the capability to strike regional and European targets with its ballistic missiles and is seeking to improve their accuracy, Burgess said in the latest U.S. public assessment of Iran’s military prowess. Iran’s regional military capability continues to improve, with new ships and submarines and expanded bases in the Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea, he said.
U.S. interests are threatened by Iran through its support of terrorist and militant groups, as shown in “the recent plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States,” Burgess said.
Turning to Afghanistan in a review of global threats, Burgess said its national army and police face continued challenges in developing “into an independent, self-sustaining security apparatus.”
The Afghan National Army must depend on U.S.-led forces “for many critical combat-enabling functions,” while the Afghan National Police “suffers from pervasive corruption and popular perceptions that it is unable to extend security in many areas,” Burgess said.
Iran’s Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said on Dec. 27 that his nation may close the Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for about one-fifth of globally traded oil, if the U.S. and its allies impose stricter economic sanctions in an effort to halt his country’s nuclear research. U.S. officials, including Pentagon spokesman George Little, have said since that threat that they haven’t seen any Iranian moves to close the waterway.
Tensions between Iran and Israel have escalated this week. Iranians arrested after blasts on a Bangkok street aimed to attack Israeli diplomats and the devices used were similar to bombs targeting Israelis in India and Georgia this week, Thailand’s police chief, Priewphan Damaphong, said yesterday. Israel has blamed Iran for the attacks, and Iran has denied involvement.
Iranian state-run Press TV said yesterday that 3,000 “new- generation” Iranian-made centrifuges were installed at the main uranium enrichment site at Natanz, and domestically made fuel plates were loaded at a medical research reactor in Tehran. While Iran has said its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, U.S and other Western governments have said Iran is developing a capacity to produce nuclear weapons.
“Our view on this is that it’s not terribly new and it’s not terribly impressive,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington yesterday. The announcement was “hyped” for a domestic audience, she said.
Burgess didn’t discuss Iran’s nuclear program in detail in his prepared testimony except to say that it is among several nations, including Russia, China and Pakistan, to actively protect “critical military and civilian assets” with “active underground programs.”
Burgess was testifying with Director of National Intelligences James Clapper who is presenting to lawmakers for the third time his annual threat assessment.
--Editors: Larry Liebert, Terry Atlas
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