The United States has moved new forces into the Gulf to keep strategic waterways open and strike deep within Iran in the event of a regional military escalation, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The Times cited senior officials as saying the quiet build-up was aimed at reassuring Israel that Washington is serious about addressing Iran’s nuclear program and keeping the Straits of Hormuz -- a key oil choke point -- open.
“The message to Iran is, ‘Don’t even think about it,’ “it quoted a senior Defense Department official as saying.
“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.”
The Navy has doubled the number of minesweepers in the region, to 8 vessels, and stealthy F-22s and older F-15C warplanes have been deployed to regional bases to reinforce existing carrier strike groups, the Times said.
U.S. President Barack Obama has sought to roll back Iran’s nuclear program though diplomatic means -- ramping up sanctions to unprecedented levels in recent months -- while not ruling out a military strike.
On Tuesday Iranian media reported that Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards test fired several ballistic missiles, including a long-range variety capable of hitting U.S. bases in the region as well as Israel.
The official IRNA news agency said the surface-to-surface missiles successfully hit their targets, while semi-official Fars said the salvos included the so-called Shahab-3 missile. It quoted a leading officer as saying the missiles travelled distances of up to 1,300 kilometers, or 800 miles.
“So far, we have launched missiles from 300 to 1,300 kilometers in the maneuver,” said General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who heads the Guards’ aerospace division. He hinted that some missiles had an even longer range.
Iran has tested a variety of missiles in previous war games, including a Shahab-3 variant with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles).
Israel is about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away from Iran’s western borders, while the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Iranian shores in the Persian Gulf.
The Commander quoted by Fars said Iran also plans to use both unmanned and manned bombers in the war games.
He said Iran is testing a variety of other missiles in the exercises, which Tehran says aim to assess the accuracy and effectiveness of its warheads and weapons systems.