Michael Winter – USA Today July 17, 2012
The Obama administration is bolstering the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf by building a secret missile-defense radar station in Qatar, sending an additional aircraft carrier and preparing for its biggest minesweeping exercises in the region, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.
Unidentified U.S. officials told the paper the moves are aimed at “a possible flare-up” with Iran.
The Journal writes:
The Pentagon’s moves reflect concern that tensions with Iran could intensify as the full weight of sanctions targeting the country’s oil exports takes hold this summer. Though U.S. officials described both the radar site and the naval exercises as defensive in nature, the deployments likely will be seen by Iran as provocations.
The latest measures also could help the U.S. reassure Israel and other anxious allies that the Pentagon is taking steps to counter Iran after months of seemingly fruitless negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program. Top U.S. officials have privately voiced concern that Israel might strike Iran’s nuclear sites. Iran denies its nuclear program is aimed at building nuclear weapons.
The U.S. moves are intended to address the two Iranian offensive capabilities Pentagon planners most worry about: Tehran’s arsenal of ballistic missiles and its threat to shut down the oil-shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz by mining them.
The USS John C. Stennis is headed to the Middle East several months early to ensure two carriers are always present, the Pentagon said today. In December, Iran alleged the carrier crossed into a restricted zone during 10 days of Iranian war games.
The September minesweeping exercises, expected to be announced Tuesday, will be the region’s first multilateral drills of their kind.
The news comes the same day that U.S. sailors aboard the supply ship Rappahannock fired on a small craft off Dubai after it ignored warnings to stop, killing one person.
In retaliation for stricter sanctions over its nuclear program, Iran last week renewed the threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway for 20% of the world’s oil. The Pentagon recently sent additional minesweepers, warships and robotic mini-subs to keep it open.
The Israeli security-and-intelligence site DEBKAfile reported last week that “dozens of unmanned underwater craft for destroying mines” are being rushed to the Gulf. It also said the Stennis “arrives in August, raising the number of American aircraft carriers in waters off Iran to four, including the USS Enterprise and the USS Abraham Lincoln, with the French Charles de Gaulle due soon to make up a fifth.”