(CNSNews.com) – Russia’s foreign minister on Monday said U.S. plans to send 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East would lead to increased risks of conflict, and he voiced the hope that “sensible voices” arguing against “war against Iran” will be heeded.
Pentagon officials are stressing that deployment of the 1,500 troops is a defensive and deterrent measure, and that the U.S. does not seek conflict with Iran.
But Sergei Lavrov, speaking alongside his visiting Cuban counterpart in Moscow, took a different view.
“Risks always grow with the buildup of military potential,” he said. “I hope that sensible voices that come from Washington, including statements by former military leaders, politicians and diplomats on the recklessness of the idea of war against Iran, will be heard.”
Lavrov expressed optimism that that would be the case, adding that “not all U.S. administration officials are obsessed with aggression.”
Pentagon officials discussing the deployment Friday said the troop request from U.S. Central Command commander U.S. Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie was in response to “credible intelligence” of plans by Iran and its surrogates to attack U.S. military personnel and allies in the region.
About 600 of the personnel are already in the region, staffing a recently-deployed Patriot battery missile defense system.
Joint Staff director Vice Adm. Michael Gilday told a briefing that the other 900 would focus on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) functions, while military engineers would “harden” existing defenses for U.S. forces in the region, and a squadron of 12 land-based fighter planes would “defend or respond if we have to” to the threat.
“These capabilities are intended to enhance our defenses, harden our positions and provide additional ISR coverage to see the threat, to be able to illuminate the threat more clearly,” said Katie Wheelbarger, principal deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for international security affairs.
Wheelbarger stressed that the U.S. “policy with respect to Iran has not changed: As the president and [acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan] have been clear, we do not seek conflict with Iran.”
“We do not see these additional capabilities as urging hostilities,” she added. “We see them as defensive in nature.”
Both Gilday and Wheelbarger said the deployment was not designed to be provocative.
Gilday confirmed that three recent incidents in the region – the sabotage of oil tankers near the Persian Gulf, a drone attack on a key Saudi oil pipeline, and a rocket which landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad – were all linked to Iran.
He attributed the drone and rocket incidents to Iranian proxies in Yemen and Iraq, and the holing of three ships off the United Arab Emirates coast to “limpet mines” which he said were linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
“We believe with a high degree of confidence that this stems back to the leadership of Iran at the highest levels, and that all of the attacks that I mentioned have been attributed to Iran through their proxies or their forces,” Gilday said.
Asked whether the Pentagon intends to provide evidence to back up the assertions, he said the intelligence community was looking into what information could be declassified “without revealing sensitive sources and methods.”
In recent weeks the U.S. administration sped up the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier task force to the region and sent four B-52 strategic bombers to Qatar, depicting the moves as a warning to Iran following intelligence pointing to threats to U.S. interests.
Senior Iranian military officials responded to the development with bravado.
If war breaks out, said Gen. Hassan Seifi, an advisor to the head of the army, “the armed forces are fully prepared to give a response to the enemy that will make it regret.”
“Iran can impose many costs on the U.S. and it will finally lead to the U.S. shame,” he told the Mehr news agency.
“Whom are you trying to frighten with sending troops from thousands of miles away?” IRGC spokesman Brig. Gen. Ramezan Sharif said mockingly during a military ceremony, directing his comments at U.S. troops whom he described as having come to the region with “shivering hands and pale faces.”
“In the battlefield, we fought against those who were more motivated, powerful and regionally dominant than Americans,” Sharif said, citing the 1980-1988 war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Brig. Gen. Morteza Qorbani, an advisor to the IRGC commander, threatened to use missiles or new “secret weapons” to dispatch U.S. ships, planes and personnel to the depths of the Persian Gulf in the event of a foolish move by the U.S.