US needs to signal to Iran it's a possible target so it doesn't get too comfortable, says former top general in the Middle East

  • Frank McKenzie, former head of US Central Command, said the US is sending the wrong deterrence message.

  • The retired general does not support attacks on Iran, but he says the country should be worried.

  • Retaliatory US strikes have been focused on IRGC and Iran-backed militia targets outside Iran.

The US should be signaling that Iran is a potential target so that they are "held at risk," according to retired Gen. Frank McKenzie, a former head of US Central Command.

"I am not advocating for striking Iran," McKenzie told Margaret Brennan on CBS News' Face the Nation on Sunday. "I am advocating that they need to be in the space of possible targets."

The US carried out airstrikes against targets associated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq last Friday in retaliation for a drone attack on Jan. 28 that killed three US service members at a base in Jordan. The strikes have since been followed by others against the militias.

Days before the start of the retaliatory campaign, President Joe Biden said he held Iran responsible for supporting the militias that committed the attack on the base in Jordan, but he also stated that he didn't want to ignite a wider war in the Middle East.

In the interview with CBS News on Sunday, McKenzie took issue with the US signaling it is unwilling to escalate and that strikes against Iran are not on the table. The appropriate strategy, he said Sunday, is to make sure that Iran maintains some level of uneasiness.

"What we want to do is induce in their minds and their cognitive space, a concern about continuing on this path and what it might mean to them," he said.

The retired general said that if the US does not treat Iran like a potential target and signals that only the Iran-backed militias are in the crosshairs, then that gives Iran a sense of relief, which is "not a good thing to do."

For a time, US responses to the actions of Iran-backed militias were also limited. Retired Gen. Joseph Votel, another former CENTCOM commander, told Business Insider in December that the US needed to respond more aggressively to the attacks.

"They have to be held accountable and we have to go after them, I think, more aggressively than we have," he said of the militia groups. "It does not appear to me that the actions we've taken so far have really caused them to change their behavior."

The US is now taking regular actions against militant groups and their capabilities, but not Iran. Following the recent US strikes, Biden released a statement saying that the administration's response "will continue at times and places of our choosing."

Senior Iranian officials warned last week that the country will retaliate if attacked. Tehran's foreign ministry said it had nothing to do with the Jan. 28 attack and that it does not direct the militia organizations it backs. Iran, however, has long armed and equipped militant groups throughout the region.

Read the original article on Business Insider