Iran could unleash terror attacks on the West using proxy forces as tanker row escalates, US General warns

IRAN could unleash a “new wave of terror attacks” on the West as the tanker row escalates in the Gulf, a US General has warned.

US General James T. Conway, who led the US Marines Corps during the Iraq War, said Iran could rally its regional proxy groups to carry out strikes on civilians.

Iran could mobilise its proxy forces, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group (shown)
AP:Associated Press

Iran could mobilise its proxy forces, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group (shown)[/caption]

Tensions have reach breaking point after Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard tried to take control of a British oil tanker on Wednesday.

This aggressive move is believed to have been in retaliation for Britain’s seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on July 4.

Despite the heightening tanker row, General Conway believe there is “little chance” of a full-scale war between the US and Iran.

He instead believes Iran’s proxy terrorist groups pose the biggest threat.

“The Iranian regime has been at war with the Iranian people, the international community – through proxies with the US – for the past 40 years,” he told the Daily Star Online.

“My immediate concern is just that – a new wave of Iranian-supported terrorist attacks on civilians and an attempt to disrupt global oil supply.

“But one has to realise that the ayatollahs are weak and these are acts of desperation.”

From Lebanon and Syria to Iraq, Yemen, and the Gaza Strip, Tehran has significantly expanded its footprint over the past decade.

Iran has developed powerful allies in conflict-ravaged countries across the Middle East.

Hezbollah is one of the most prominent members of the self-styled “axis of resistance,” armed groups with tens of thousands of Shiite Muslim fighters beholden to Tehran.

Iran has used such groups in the past to strike its regional foes and could mobilise them against the West as tensions continue to rise.

But if there was an all-out war between the US and Iran, General Conway said the regime is “no match for the US military”.

The Royal Navy has sent a destroyer to the Gulf days after a British frigate chased off Iranian troops as they tried to storm a BP oil tanker.

Three Iranian boats had tried to seize the vessel as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday – sparking a tense standoff in the Persian Gulf.

The Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose – which was escorting the tanker through the flashpoint region – was forced to sail in front of the boats.

After quickly training its 30mm deck guns on the enemy boats, deploying its Wildcat helicopter and issuing a radio warning, the Iranian boats scarpered.

HMS Duncan has been deployed to patrol the busy shipping lane as all UK flagged vessels were put on the highest security alert level over fears of retaliation from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The £1.1bn guided missile destroyer, which is bristling with deadly tech, will join HMS Montrose and US allies in efforts to protect shipping amid escalating tensions.

News of the deployment comes as Iran warned Britain “is playing a dangerous game” over the seizure of an oil tanker in Gibraltar.

Iran has warned of “consequences” after Royal Marines boarded the Grace 1 supertanker suspected of taking crude oil to Syria.

In fresh threats, Iran’s Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state news agency IRNA: “This is a dangerous game and we advise them not get involved in this game under America’s influence.”

He added: “We ask them again to release the tanker immediately, which will be in all countries’ interest.”

Iran has threatened to seize a British tanker in retaliation if the Grace 1 is not released.

The BP tanker was confronted by Iranian boats in the Strait of Hormuz

EPA

Iran’s President Rouhani had vowed ‘consequences’ for Britain’s dramatic seizure of an Iranian tanker bound for Syria[/caption]

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The Islamic Republic had earlier been blamed for a series of devastating sea mine attacks on US-linked oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.

And last month, Donald Trump called off a planned airstrike on Iranian military targets at the last minute in retaliation for the shooting down of an unmanned US drone.

Iran has been squaring up to the West as it reels over the scrapping of the so-called nuclear deal by the US.

Tehran has now started exceeding the limit for uranium enrichment – a key material needed to make nukes – set in the 2015 nuclear deal.

Experts say this could put the nation, which has been accused of backing terrorism across the globe, on course to be a nuclear armed power in 12 months.

In a sign of heightening tensions, France, Germany and Britain – all parties to the deal – expressed concerns over the step taken by Tehran.


SunOnline takes a look at the regional proxy groups Iran could mobilise:

HEZBOLLAH

The militia, whose Arabic name translates into “Party of God,” was established by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard during Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s.

Today it is among the most effective armed groups in the region, extending Iran’s influence to Israel’s doorstep.

In a paper for the Brookings Institute earlier this year, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman described the group as revolutionary Iran’s “most successful export” and Tehran’s “multi-purpose tool.”

Hezbollah was formed to combat Israel following its invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

It waged an 18-year guerrilla war against Israeli forces, eventually forcing them to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000.

Six years later, it battled Israel to a bloody stalemate in a month-long war.

Today, the group has an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles that can reach deep into Israel, as well as thousands of highly disciplined and battle-hardened fighters.

Hezbollah has fought alongside government forces in Syria for more than six years, gaining even more battlefield experience and expanding its reach.

At home, the group’s power exceeds that of the Lebanese armed forces, and along with its allies has more power than ever in the parliament and government.

Despite the rhetoric, Hezbollah says it is not seeking another war with Israel, and it is not likely to join in any regional confrontation — at least not in the early stages — unless provoked.

Hezbollah has lost hundreds of fighters in Syria, exacting a heavy toll on the Shiite community from which it draws most of its support.

THE HOUTHIS

Yemen’s Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, swept down from the north and captured the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict on the side of the government the following year.

The war has since killed tens of thousands of people and generated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as an Iranian proxy, and along with Western nations and U.N. experts has accused Tehran of providing arms to the rebels, including the long-range missiles they have fired into Saudi Arabia.

Iran supports the rebels but denies arming them.

The Houthis have given up little ground since the coalition entered the war, and have targeted the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with long-range missiles.

They claimed a drone attack that shut down a major oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, which responded with airstrikes on Yemen’s rebel-held capital that killed civilians.

IRAQ MILITIAS

Iran has trained, financed, and equipped Shiite militias in Iraq that battled U.S. forces in the years after the 2003 invasion and remobilized to battle the Islamic State group a decade later.

The groups include Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataeb Hezbollah and the Badr Organization, all three led by men with close ties to Gen.

Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the architect of Tehran’s regional strategy.

The militias fall under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a collection of mostly Shiite militias that were incorporated into the country’s armed forces in 2016.

Together they number more than 140,000 fighters, and while they fall under the authority of Iraq’s prime minister, the PMF’s top brass are politically aligned with Iran.

U.S. forces and the PMF fought side-by-side against Islamic State militants after Iraq’s parliament invited the U.S. back into the country in 2014.

But now that the war is largely concluded, some militia leaders are calling on U.S. troops to leave again, threatening to expel them by force if necessary.

GAZA MILITANTS

Iran has long supported Palestinian militant groups, including Gaza’s Hamas rulers and particularly the smaller Islamic Jihad group.

Hamas fell out with Iran after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, losing millions of dollars in monthly assistance.

The group today is in a severe financial crisis; its employees and public servants in Gaza have not been paid full salaries in years.

Tehran is said to have continued its military support to Hamas’ armed wing, but the group appears to get most of its aid from Qatar, making it less likely that it would rally to Tehran’s side in a regional conflict.

Islamic Jihad, another Sunni militant group, is seen as much closer to Iran but still not as deeply intertwined as Hezbollah or other groups.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched hundreds of rockets from Gaza during a bout of fighting with Israel in May.

Israel accused Islamic Jihad of triggering the violence, which was the worst since a 2014 war. The movement did not deny the Israeli accusations.


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