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US General Warns About Iran's Ability to Go Ballistic

FILE - Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, attends a ceremony at Resolute Support headquarters, in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 12, 2021.

With much of the world's attention focused on stalled efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal and keep Tehran's nuclear weapons ambitions in check, a top U.S. commander is warning of an ever-growing threat from Iran's ballistic missile arsenal.

U.S. Central Command's General Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie told lawmakers Tuesday that Iran now has about 3,000 ballistic missiles, some of which are capable of hitting the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

"None of them can reach Europe yet, but over the last five to seven years … they have invested heavily in their ballistic missile program," McKenzie said.

"Their missiles have significantly greater range and significantly enhanced accuracy," he added, describing the advancement of Iran's missile program as "remarkable."

McKenzie further warned that Tehran has made major progress in developing increasingly capable long-range drones, and with its efforts to develop land-attack cruise missiles, designed to hit predetermined fixed or mobile ground-based targets.

The warning from the general in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East comes just days after dozens of Iranian ballistic missiles hit the northern Iraqi city of Irbil near a U.S. consulate complex, destroying some residential structures.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed the attack, saying the targets were Israeli "strategic centers" and suggested the strike was in retaliation for several Israeli strikes on Iranian personnel in Syria.

The U.S. immediately blamed Tehran for the strike and promised to support the Iraqi government in holding Iran to account.

McKenzie on Tuesday declined to say what Iran was aiming for but told lawmakers, "We do not believe the attack of this last weekend, the ballistic missiles, was actually targeted against us."

Still, McKenzie warned that Iran continues to see Iraq as the primary battleground for its efforts to oust the U.S. from the Middle East.

"That's we're the most distributed, the most vulnerable," McKenzie said, though he noted efforts by Iran and its various proxies to push the U.S. out using force have failed.

"Over the last several months, their attacks have tapered off," he said, noting Iranian-backed attacks have been thwarted in part by better U.S. defensive measures, which have limited the effectives of Tehran's drones.

But McKenzie also pointed to Iran's inability to win over Iraqi officials with their anti-American stance.

"They're finding it increasingly difficult to get any political traction with the government of Iraq," he said.