The United States has quietly moved significant new military forces into the Persian Gulf to discourage an Iranian response to new sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.
The American moves are designed to deter Iran from any attempt to shut the Strait of Hormuz and to increase the United States’ ability to strike into Iran if necessary, The New York Times reports in a front-page story on Tuesday.
The increased American forces include minesweepers and stealth jets. And a Pentagon official warned that if Iran’s navy harasses American vessels, “We’ll put them on the bottom of the gulf.”
A European Union oil embargo meant to pressure Iran over its nuclear program came into effect on Sunday, and on Monday Iran announced it would consider legislation to disrupt marine traffic in the Strait of Hormuz.
The legislation calls for the Iranian military to block any oil tanker on its way to countries that no longer buy Iranian crude because of the embargo.
During Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s, Iran attacked tankers and other commercial traffic to disrupt Iraq’s oil shipments and threaten shipments from Arab states supporting Iraq. Iran also laid mines intended to disrupt traffic, and the United States launched mine-clearing operations and attacks on the Iranian Navy by American warships.
On Tuesday, Iran test-fired several ballistic missiles capable of striking American bases in the region as well as Israel. Iran claimed the surface-to-surface missiles hit their targets after travelling 800 miles, The Associated Press reported.
America’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, 120 miles from Iran, and Israel is about 600 miles away.
The U.S. Navy has now doubled the number of minesweepers assigned to the region, to eight.
“The message to Iran is, ‘Don’t even think about closing the strait,” the Pentagon official told The Times. “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.”
The Pentagon has sent additional F-22 stealth warplanes and older F-15 aircraft to two bases in the Persian Gulf, and carrier strike groups are always on patrol in the region.
The Navy has also moved a converted amphibious transport and docking vessel, the Ponce, into the Persian Gulf. It would serve as a “logistics and operations hub for mine-clearing,” according to the Times, and has a medical suite, helicopter deck, and bunks for combat troops.
And while U.S. troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, the Pentagon still maintains a force equal to a combat brigade in Kuwait.
The West suspects Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons, and the Islamic Republic has resisted all attempts to force it to give up enrichment of uranium.
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