U.S. Adds Forces in Persian Gulf, a Signal to Iran
KURDPA: The United States has quietly moved significant military reinforcements into the Persian Gulf to deter the
Iranian military from any possible attempt to shut the Strait of Hormuz and to increase the number of fighter jets capable of striking deep into Iran
if the standoff over its nuclear program escalates.
The deployments are part of a long-planned effort to bolster the American
military presence in the gulf region, in part to reassure Israel that in dealing with Iran, as one senior administration official put it last week,
"When the president says there are other options on the table beyond negotiations, he means it."
But at a moment that the United States and
its allies are beginning to enforce a much broader embargo on Iran's oil exports, meant to force the country to take seriously the negotiations over
sharply limiting its nuclear program, the buildup carries significant risks, including that Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps could
decide to lash out against the increased presence.
The most visible elements of this buildup are Navy ships designed to vastly enhance the
ability to patrol the Strait of Hormuz and to reopen the narrow waterway should Iran attempt to mine it to prevent Saudi Arabia and other oil
exporters from sending their tankers through the vital passage.
The Navy has doubled the number of minesweepers assigned to the region, to
eight vessels, in what military officers describe as a purely defensive move.
"The message to Iran is, "Don't even think about it," one
senior Defense Department official said. "Don't even think about closing the strait. We'll clear the mines. Don't even think about sending your
fast boats out to harass our vessels or commercial shipping. We'll put them on the bottom of the gulf." Like others interviewed, the official spoke
on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the diplomatic and military situation.
Since late spring, stealthy F-22 and older
F-15C warplanes have moved into two separate bases in the Persian Gulf to bolster the combat jets already in the region and the carrier strike groups
that are on constant tours of the area. Those additional attack aircraft give the United States military greater capability against coastal missile
batteries that could threaten shipping, as well as the reach to strike other targets deeper inside Iran.
And the Navy, after a crash
development program, has moved a converted amphibious transport and docking ship, the Ponce, into the Persian Gulf to serve as the Pentagon's first
floating staging base for military operations or humanitarian assistance.
The most significant Iranian threat to shipping came during its war
of attrition with Iraq in the 1980s. Iran attacked tankers and other commercial traffic to disrupt Iraq's oil revenues and threaten shipments from
other Arab states viewed as supporting Baghdad. Iran also laid significant numbers of mines in an attempt to block transit, prompting mine-clearing
operations and attacks on the Iranian Navy by American warships.
Defense Department officials stressed that the recent reshaping of American
forces in the Persian Gulf region should not be viewed as solely about the potential nuclear threat from Iran.
"This is not only about Iranian
nuclear ambitions, but about Iran's regional hegemonic ambitions," the senior Defense Department official said.
"This is a complex array of
American military power that is tangible proof to all of our allies and partners and friends that even as the U.S. pivots toward Asia, we remain
vigilant across the Middle East."
While American ground troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, a force equivalent to an extra Army combat
brigade has remained in Kuwait, officials said. It could have many roles to contain regional instability, but Iran is a primary concern.
it always is difficult to read Iran's intentions, senior American Navy officers have noted that Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf have refrained
recently from provocative behavior.
"Things have been, relatively speaking, quiet," said Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, the chief of naval
operations, assessing actions by Iranian Navy vessels over "the last couple of months."
But that was without the pressure of the new
sanctions; already Iran is exporting far less oil every day than a year ago: about 1.5 million barrels a day versus 2.5 million before the gradual
imposition of earlier sanctions.
While Iranian vessels have avoided any confrontations with allied warships in recent weeks, Iran expects to
equip its ships in the Strait of Hormuz soon with shorter-range missiles, a Revolutionary Guards commander said on Friday, according to the
semiofficial Mehr news agency.
With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran, the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with
the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
The United States and
19 other countries will hold a major mine countermeasure exercise in the Persian Gulf in September, said a senior military officer who noted that
countries in the region were taking more steps in their own defense, including buying American-made air defense systems and other weaponry.