U.S. Beefs Up Naval Forces In Persian Gulf

The seas of the Persian Gulf have gotten just a little more crowded:

WASHINGTON — 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 initial assignment for the Ponce, Pentagon officials say, is to serve as a logistics and operations hub for mine-clearing. But with a medical suite and helicopter deck, and bunks for combat troops, the Ponce eventually could be used as a base for Special Operations forces to conduct a range of missions, including reconnaissance and counterterrorism, all from international waters.

This isn’t the first time the United States has had a significant military presence in the Gulf, of course. During the Iran-Iraq War in the 80s, we sent a task force into the region to protect shipping and the Straits of Hormuz. Among the incidents that occurred thanks to the close quarters and hair trigger tensions at the time were the USS Stark being hit by an inadvertently targeted by Iraqi jets equipped with Exocet missiles, and a 2008 incident in which the USS Vincennes mistakenly shot down an Iranian passenger jet that had been identified as an Iranian fighter. One hopes the possibility for such errors has been taken into account this time around.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Quick Takes, World Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    And the price of oil jumped by $10 bbl.

  2. Racehorse says:

    One thing that the US and other countries must make sure of is that the Suez Canal WILL remain open and shipping will not be interfered with. The new leader of Egypt must understand and agree with this. It is important to world nations. Persian Gulf is important, but the canal is just as much important.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    @Racehorse: I really doubt we have much to worry about. The Suez Canal is a big money maker for Egypt.

  4. JohnMcC says:

    Just a reception committee for the next leg of the apology tour, no doubt.

    Seriously, the Iranian gov’t has almost no one to sell their oil to except India. And because of banking controls cannot sell petroleum in dollars. What is the price of petroleum in rupees, one wonders.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    One hopes the possibility for such errors has been taken into account this time around.

    Doug, you are hopelessly optimistic.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    Just a reception committee for the next leg of the apology tour, no doubt.

    Hmm…sarcasm, delusion, or a little of both perhaps…