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The Mideast is in a dangerous phase -- Def. Sec. Austin

WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (KUNA) -- US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has warned that the Middle East is currently passing through a dangerous phase.
"So this is a dangerous moment in the Middle East. We will continue to work to avoid a wider conflict in the region but we will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our interests, and our people," Austin said at a freshly held news conference at the Pentagon.
Austin continued, "I will just tell you that, you know, we will have a multi-tiered response and again, we have the ability to respond a number of times depending on what the situation is.
"You know, we believe that this was done by an element of what is known as the Axis of Resistance, and these are Iranian proxy groups.
"And how much Iran knew or didn't know, we don't know, but it really doesn't matter because Iran sponsors these groups, it funds these groups, and in some cases, it trains these groups on advanced conventional weapons. And so, again, I think without that facilitation, these kind of those kinds of things don't happen.
"What's happened in the last couple of weeks is not driving us to consider withdrawing troops from Syria. There are ongoing discussions with the Iraq -- Iraqi leadership about -- about our future footprint in Iraq, and I think that's -- that's been fairly well publicized. The High Military Commission, we've taken the first steps in -- in conducting those meetings. And so that will play out over time, so." Austin was speaking against the backdrop of a recent wave of attacks on US military positions in Iraq and Syria in addition to the repeated launch of missiles and drones targeting some of the US marine vessels in the Red Sea. Washington and Baghdad have been holding talks on prospects of withdrawing the US military personnel from the country.
"There -- there are things that are ongoing now -- well, things that are not ongoing. You know, we -- we don't see a -- a conflict -- an all-out conflict between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah. And so I think managing that I think is a -- a -- has been artfully done.
The secretary of defense was alluding to concerns that daily skirmishes across the Lebanon-Palestine borders may develop into full-scale war. (end) rsr.rk