by Ben Ariel
U.S. Defense Secretary warns the Trump administration will not tolerate Iran's mischief in the region.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Tuesday said Iran has been “put on notice” and warned that its “continued mischief” in the region will not be tolerated by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Speaking at a press conference at the Pentagon with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, Mattis called Iran the “single biggest destabilizing element” in the Middle East.
“Iran has been put on notice that the continued mischief they’ve caused around the area, murder they have caused,” and the regime’s support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, said Mattis, according to The Independent.
He warned Iran is “going to be held to account for it” but did not going into detail about what that entailed.
While he acknowledged he felt there was “less willingness to be confrontational” on Iran’s part, Mattis added they are still “fundamentally” a destabilizing factor in the region.
Mattis also clarified, “Our problem is not with Iran, it’s with the Iranian regime leadership, not the Iranian people. I just want to separate those two as well.”
One of the sticking points for Mattis and the Trump administration is Iran’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.
“What are they doing in Syria in the first place?” said Mattis, before adding Iran was “propping up” Assad, who has “committed mayhem and murder on his own people.”
Answering his own question, the Defense Secretary said Iran “has no business” being in the middle of the “civil war”.
He added that the Trump administration is working with Russia, who may have the “traction” and “persuasiveness” to ask Iran to leave, but did not address the issue of Assad asking Tehran to be involved in the first place.
Iran has been providing Assad with both financial aid and military advisors against a range of opposing forces since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Near the start of the Syrian civil war, it was reported that then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had personally sanctioned the dispatch of officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to fight alongside Assad’s troops.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top aide to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently made clear that Iran would withdraw its “military advisers” from Syria and Iraq only if their governments wanted it to.
Israel has expressed concern over Iran's growing influence in Syria, while the United States has been pressing for Iran to withdraw its fighters from Syria.
Israeli officials have made clear that Israel will not accept any Iranian military entrenchment in Syria. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin have held several meetings to discuss the issue.
A U.S. official said last week that President Donald Trump and Putin agreed in principle during their July summit in Helsinki that Iran should exit Syria.
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