U.S. Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie spoke over the weekend about the probability of a large-scale attack by Iran in the Middle East. “My judgment is that it is very possible they will attack again,” General McKenzie said in an interview ahead of an international security conference on Saturday.
“It’s the trajectory and the direction that they’re on,” he added. “The attack on the oil fields in Saudi was stunning in the depth of its audaciousness,” he said speaking in a series of interviews. “I wouldn’t rule that out going forward.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted McKenzie's remarks at the opening of a cabinet meeting Sunday and said that Iran was planning "additional attacks."
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McKenzie "said that Iran is planning another attack. It's true – additional attacks," Netanyahu added. "But Iran doesn't only attack its neighbors and us [Israel], Iran also attacks its citizens. In recent week they have massacred hundreds of Iranian citizens." An Amnesty International report last week said that more than 100 Iranians were killed during the protests in Iran.
Netanyahu called on the international community to pressure Iran and to "support Israel when its acting against this aggression."
Netanyahu also discussed Iran while on a military tour of Israel's north. Israel works to thwart "deadly weapon transfers from Iran to Syria" and "Iran's attempts to turn Iraq and Yemen into bases for launching rockets and missiles at Israel," he said while touring Mt. Avital, accompanied by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett.
"We are implementing all the necessary activities in order to prevent Ian's entrenchment in the area," Netanyahu said.
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U.S. Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also landed in Israel on Sunday for a meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and other senior Israeli defense officials.
McKenzie's statements come as some 14,000 additional troops have been deployed to the Persian Gulf region since the spring to help bolster Saudi defenses - among other operational purposes.
McKenzie also said on Saturday about 500 U.S. personnel in east Syria are expected to resume operations against Islamic State in coming days and weeks.
Islamic State has lost nearly all its territory in Syria and U.S. forces killed its former leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last month, but the group that once controlled a third of Syria and neighboring Iraq is still seen as a threat.
The administration of President Donald Trump shocked U.S. allies last December by saying Washington was pulling out all its troops from Syria.
It said later it decided to keep a residual force in the northeastern part of the country, focusing on preventing Islamic State from staging a comeback and attacking the oilfields there.
"Now I've got about 500 U.S. personnel generally east of the Euphrates river east of Deir al Zor up to Hasaka, northeast all the way up into extreme northeast Syria," McKenzie told reporters on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain.
"It is our intention to remain in that position working with our SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) partners to continue operations against ISIS down the Euphrates river valley where those targets present themselves," he added.
Turkey launched and then halted an offensive against the YPG, the main component of the U.S.-backed SDF that helped the United States defeat Islamic State, which it sees as a terrorist group with links to Kurdish militants on Turkish soil.
Moscow, the main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said this week it was also in the process of deploying more Russian military police to northeast Syria, setting up field hospitals for civilians, distributing humanitarian aid and rebuilding infrastructure.
Reuters contributed to this report