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Iran warns U.S.: ‘Insane armed robber’ must leave region

Iran’s defense minister warned the U.S. to withdraw troops from the Middle East, likening American operations in the Persian Gulf to that of “an insane armed robber.” “What is the U.S. doing in the Persian Gulf? They better leave this region and not harass the regional countries,” Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan said Thursday. “Is it acceptable that an ignorant armed robber breaks into someone’s house and expects to get red carpet treatment? This is an instance of modern, 21st century barbarism,” Dehghan said. The comments came after the top U.S. military official in the Middle East warned that Iran poses the “greatest threat” to the region as well as the U.S. homeland, with continued destabilization of the area through its sponsoring of terror and proxy forces across the region as well as its illegal cyber operations. "I believe that Iran is operating in what I call a gray zone, an area between normal competition between states — and it's just short of open conflict," Gen. Joseph Votel stated in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday. U.S. warships and boats operating in international waters off the Persian Gulf have increasingly become the target of harassment by navy boats under the command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). One of the most high-profile of these incidents in recent years occurred January 12, 2016, when two U.S. command boats were seized along with 10 service members when their vessels drifted into Iranian waters around Farsi Island. The sailors were held for 15 hours before being released. In January 2017, the USS Mahan fired warning shots when five Iranian vessels came within 900 yards of the warship as it sailed through the Strait of Hormuz. The summer before, five boats came within 500 yards of the USS New Orleans as it hosted Gen. Votel on a daytrip through the Strait of Hormuz. Some of these maneuvers are described by U.S. officials as “professional interactions,” but the frequency of these drills has increased over the past years with 35 interactions in 2016 described as “unsafe and unprofessional.” Despite an agreement signed in July 2015 between Iran and world powers aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear program, President Trump’s administration put Iran “on notice” following an Iranian missile test and the targeting of a Saudi warship by Iran backed Houthi rebels. The Trump administration has mentioned seeking opportunities outside traditional diplomacy to bridge the gap between the U.S. and the people of Iran. “Iran has a role in the region, there's no doubt about that and I want to be clear that we think differently about the people of Iran than we think about the leadership of Iran, the revolutionary council that runs Iran,” Gen. Votel said. “In my mind, those are two very distinct things and our concern is not with the people of Iran but it is with their revolutionary government.”  
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