Head of US Central Command General Joseph Votel strongly criticized the Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and its leader, Qassem Soleimani, and blamed them for Iran's "expansionist" policy in the Middle East.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters on Sunday, Votel described Soleimani as "an individual who is perpetrating a lot of Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.”
Votel called out the IRGC leader for "his very aggressive nature.”
“Wherever you see Iranian activity, you see Qassem Soleimani, whether it is in Syria, whether it is in Iraq, whether it is in Yemen, he is there and it is the Quds Force, the organization which he leads, that I think is the principal threat as we look at this and the principal ones that are stoking this destabilizing activity," Votel stressed.
Votel emphasized that the US military can keep the Strait of Hormuz open for shipping despite Iranian threats to potentially shut it down.
He pointed out that Iran has layered capabilities that include mines, explosive boats, coastal defense missiles and radars.
“They certainly have capabilities there, but I would just suggest we have capabilities as well."
He noted that US routinely focus on demining exercises in the region and maintaining forces and readiness.
"We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman," Votel said, noting that the US military was monitoring it closely, according to CNN.
"The purpose of any messages that we would send would be to highlight to them that we are paying attention, we are very vigilant, we are aware of what's going on," Votel said.
He further noted that US military would act to ensure international navigation would remain open in the Bab al-Mandeb waterway off the coast of Yemen.
The IRGC had announced that it had conducted military maneuvers last week in the Strait of Hormuz.