US Secretary of Defense warns of ‘unthinkable’ military ties between Iran and Russia

The US Secretary of Defense has warned of “unthinkable” military links between Russia and Iran as he seeks to reassure regional allies that Washington remains committed to the Middle East “in the long term.”

Lloyd Austin’s comments came at the start of a visit to the region aimed at allaying fears that Washington would be sidetracked from other priorities, such as China.

“What Iran is doing is really unthinkable,” Austin told reporters in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Monday. “They gain more experience using drones in Ukraine. And that doesn’t bode well for the region.”

Washington is increasingly concerned about Iran-Russia defense links. Tehran has provided Moscow with drones, which it has used to attack Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, and is also considering supplying ballistic missiles, Western officials say.

Austin said the US expected Russia to provide technology to Iran in exchange for drone technology, without specifying what that might be. Iran has consistently refused to supply arms to Russia since the all-out invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

Austin visits Jordan, Egypt and Israel, three US military allies feeling the economic fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the geopolitical unrest resulting from Moscow’s aggression.

The confrontation with Iran will be the focus of Austin’s stop in Tel Aviv on Thursday, amid China’s growing interest in the Middle East through President Xi Jinping’s December summit with Gulf leaders in Riyadh, including Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman , has been underlined.

The Defense Secretary’s trip follows high-profile visits to the region by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, CIA Director Bill Burns and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. Senior Israeli officials are also set to meet with Sullivan and other Biden administration officials in Washington this week.

The US has 34,000 troops stationed in the Middle East. Egypt, Jordan and Israel are among the top recipients of US financial aid, although the $73 billion in US aid sent to Ukraine since the invasion dwarfs those numbers.

“We’ve said over and over, we [have] have assured our allies that we will be here for the long haul,” Austin said. “This is an important region, not just for us, but for the whole world.”

Austin’s visit aimed to “reaffirm that we are the most combat-capable military in the world and can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said a senior US defense official.

Washington has become increasingly focused on its rivalry with China in recent years, diverting focus from other regions. “What happened under the Trump and especially the Biden administration was a general deprioritization of a number of issues: Syria, Iraq. . . the Israelis and the Palestinians,” said Aaron David Miller, who has advised Republican and Democratic secretaries of state on Middle East issues.

The regional influence of both Egypt and Jordan is on the wane and has further diminished since Israel established diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco through the so-called 2020 Abraham Accords.

Israel has drawn rapprochement with Gulf powers, including Saudi Arabia, with which it has no diplomatic ties, over shared concerns about Iran and what it sees as the US’ dwindling role in the region, particularly given that Iran is expanding its nuclear activities strengthened. Israel has been reluctant to provide lethal aid to Ukraine because it wants to maintain ties with Russia.

While Israeli leaders will this week urge US officials to commit to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons-development capability, Austin will also address Washington’s deep concerns about rising violence in the occupied West Bank ahead of Ramadan and Passover to express.

“He will speak openly to the Israeli leadership about his concerns about the cycle of violence in the West Bank and will consult on what steps the Israeli leadership can take to meaningfully restore calm ahead of the upcoming holiday,” the senior defense official said.

The rise in violence in the West Bank comes as Israel’s new far-right government is pushing a controversial judicial reform through Parliament, with tens of thousands joining protests across Israel every week. US officials have expressed concern about the proposals, as well as some statements by ultranationalist members of the new administration. US Secretary of Defense warns of ‘unthinkable’ military ties between Iran and Russia

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