Armada of British & US naval power massing in the Gulf as Israel prepares an Iran strike
An armada of US and British naval power is massing in the Persian Gulf in the belief that Israel is considering a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s covert nuclear weapons programme.
The Strait of Hormuz is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point
Battleships, aircraft carriers, minesweepers and submarines from 25 nations are converging on the strategically important Strait of Hormuz in an unprecedented show of force as Israel and Iran move towards the brink of war.
Western leaders are convinced that Iran will retaliate to any attack by attempting to mine or blockade the shipping lane through which passes around 18 million barrels of oil every day, approximately 35 per cent of the world’s petroleum traded by sea.
A blockade would have a catastrophic effect on the fragile economies of Britain, Europe the United States and Japan, all of which rely heavily on oil and gas supplies from the Gulf.
The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most congested international waterways. It is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point and is bordered by the Iranian coast to the north and the United Arab Emirates to the south.
In preparation for any pre-emptive or retaliatory action by Iran, warships from more than 25 countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, will today begin an annual 12-day exercise.
The war games are the largest ever undertaken in the region.
They will practise tactics in how to breach an Iranian blockade of the strait and the force will also undertake counter-mining drills.
The multi-national naval force in the Gulf includes three US Nimitz class carrier groups, each of which has more aircraft than the entire complement of the Iranian air force.
The carriers are supported by at least 12 battleships, including ballistic missile cruisers, frigates, destroyers and assault ships carrying thousand of US Marines and special forces.
The British component consists of four British minesweepers and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay, a logistics vessel. HMS Diamond, a brand-new £1billion Type 45 destroyer, one of the most powerful ships in the British fleet, will also be operating in the region.
In addition, commanders will also simulate destroying Iranian combat jets, ships and coastal missile batteries.
In the event of war, the main threat to the multi-national force will come from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps navy, which is expected to adopt an “access-denial” strategy in the wake of an attack, by directly targeting US warships, attacking merchant shipping and mining vital maritime chokepoints in the Persian Gulf.
Defence sources say that although Iran’s capability may not be technologically sophisticated, it could deliver a series of lethal blows against British and US ships using mini-subs, fast attack boats, mines and shore-based anti-ship missile batteries.
Next month, Iran will stage massive military manoeuvres of its own, to show that it is prepared to defend its nuclear installations against the threat of aerial bombardment.
The exercise is being showcased as the biggest air defence war game in the Islamic Republic’s history, and will be its most visible response yet to the prospect of an Israeli military strike.
Using surface-to-air missiles, unmanned drones and state-of-the-art radar, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and air force will combine to test the defences of 3,600 sensitive locations throughout the country, including oil refineries and uranium enrichment facilities.
Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya air defence base, told a conference this month that the manoeuvres would “identify vulnerabilities, try out new tactics and practise old ones”.
At the same time as the Western manoeuvres in the Gulf, the British Response Task Forces Group — which includes the carrier HMS Illustrious, equipped with Apache attack helicopters, along with the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle - will be conducting a naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean. The task force could easily be diverted to the Gulf region via the Suez Canal within a week of being ordered to do so.
The main naval exercise comes as President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, today to discuss the Iranian crisis.
Many within the Obama administration believe that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities before the US presidential elections, an act which would signal the failure of one of Washington’s key foreign policy objectives.
Both Downing Street and Washington hope that the show of force will demonstrate to Iran that Nato and the West will not allow President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian leader, to develop a nuclear armoury or close Hormuz.
Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, reportedly met the Israeli prime minister and Ehud Barak, his defence secretary, two weeks ago in an attempt to avert military action against Iran.
But just last week Mr Netanyahu signalled that time for a negotiated settlement was running out when he said: “The world tells Israel 'Wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?’
“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
The crisis hinges on Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme, which Israel believes is designed to build an atomic weapon. Tehran has long argued that the programme is for civil use only and says it has no plans to an build a nuclear bomb, but that claim has been disputed by the West, with even the head of MI6 stating that the Islamic Republic is on course to develop atomic weapons by 2014.
The Strait of Hormuz has long been disputed territory, with the Iranians claiming control of the region and the entire Persian Gulf.
Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps recently boasted that “any plots of enemies” would be foiled and a heavy price exacted, adding: “We determine the rules of military conflict in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.”
But Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, warned that Iranian attempts to exercise control over the Strait of Hormuz could be met with force.
He said: “The Iranians need to understand that the United States and the international community are going to hold them directly responsible for any disruption of shipping in that region — by Iran or, for that matter, by its surrogates.”
Mr Panetta said that the United States was “fully prepared for all contingencies” and added: “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that the Iranian attempt to close down shipping in the Gulf is something that we are going to be able to defeat if they make that decision.”
That announcement was supported by Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, who added: “We are determined to work as part of the international community effort to ensure freedom of passage in the international waters of the Strait of Hormuz.”
One defence source told The Sunday Telegraph last night: “If it came to war, there would be carnage. The Iranian casualties would be huge but they would be able to inflict severe blows against the US and British.
“The Iranian Republican Guard are well versed in asymmetrical warfare and would use swarm attacks to sink or seriously damage ships. This is a conflict nobody wants, but the rhetoric from Israel is unrelenting.”
US leads Unprecedented War-Games Exercise in Strait of Hormuz
The aggression show of force is the biggest such military exercise ever taken in the Persian Gulf, escalating tensions in an uneasy region
Battleships, aircraft carriers, minesweepers and submarines from 25 nations are swarming into the Persian Gulf, in the largest such military exercise ever undertaken in the region, as concerns of a looming Israeli strike on Iran still linger
Countries leading the massive war games exercise inlcude the United States, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Fleets of warships will flood the Strait of Hormuz, the important waterway through which 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil passes, as a show of force to deter Iran from trying to close the straits or retaliate against US assets in the region, even in response to an unprovoked Israeli strike.
Despite the unprecedented scale of the operations, chances of a US or Israeli strike on Iran have lessened considerably in recent weeks, as American refusal to back an Israeli strike have turned the tide of war-hawks in Israel. The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains one of the few still advocating harsher postures, and he is increasingly isolated.
A torrent of military and intelligence analysis rejecting the need or viability of a preventive strike on Iran have come out in recent days. A report by dozens of former government officials, national security experts and retired military officers released Thursday concluded military action would spark an uncontrollable regional war and have counterproductive results.
“We do not believe it would lead to regime change, regime collapse or capitulation,” the report says, adding that an attack would increase Iran’s motivation to build a bomb, in order to deter further military action “and redress the humiliation of being attacked.”
The US has made it clear to both Israel and Iran that a military strike is not imminent. “I suspect the Americans have given quiet assurances through indirect channels that they have no intention of moving into Iranian national waters,” Scott Lucas, an Iran expert at Birmingham University in England, said.
“Both sides have good reasons to avoid a conflict – they have other issues to deal with right now.” Still, the war games do a good job of escalating tensions in a very uneasy region.
US to flex naval might in Persian Gulf war games
The US Navy is leading its largest-ever war games in the Persian Gulf, with warships from 25 countries being deployed in the region. Tehran, in return, is preparing for its biggest air defense war game in the history of Islamic Republic next month.
The countries that deployed the largest number of warships for the 12-day training mission are the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The exact number of aircraft carriers, battleships and submarines taking part is unclear. Three American aircraft carriers out of the four currently in commission are reportedly gathering in the Persian Gulf for the training. USS Enterprise, USS John C. Stennis, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower have reportedly arrived.
The USS George Washington is believed to be on patrol in the Pacific Ocean but its exact whereabouts are a mystery. It was sighted near the island of Guam one week ago, and the air carrier’s Facebook page claims that it is still in the Pacific. But since the ship can travel at over 30 knots, it could be on its way to the Persian Gulf.
The aircraft carriers are supported by at least a dozen warships: Ballistic missile cruisers, destroyers, frigates and assault ships carrying thousand of US Marines and spec ops ships.
Britain dispatched six vessels to the Persian Gulf war games: the HMS Diamond, a brand-new £1 billion worth destroyer, four minesweepers and a logistics vessel.
The joint fleet is expected to simulate destroying Iranian fighter jets, battleships and coastal military defenses like missile batteries.
Attacking Iran cuts both ways for US
Tensions between Iran and Israel over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program have been on the uptick. Iran has blamed the US for Israel’s possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, and promised to retaliate against American interests in the event of such an attack.
On Sunday, Iranian General Mohammad Ali Jafari confirmed that in a conflict with Israel, Iran considers the entrance of the Persian Gulf – the Strait of Hormuz – a legitimate target.
"The US has many vulnerable targets around Iran, and its bases are within the range of the Guards' missiles. We have other capabilities as well, particularly when it comes to the support of Muslims for the Islamic republic," the general said during a press conference in Tehran.
Jafari revealed that Tehran is aware of Israel’s unsuccessful attempts to push the US towards military action against Iran, but claimed it was unlikely that an Israeli strike against Tehran's nuclear facilities “would be carried out without US permission.”
If Israel attacked Iran, "nothing of Israel will be left, considering its size," he said.
In response, the US, which maintains a heavy military presence in the region, and its allies are increasing military patrols to protect the Strait of Hormuz, which accounts for 40 percent of the world oil shipped by sea.
Hawkish US rhetoric towards the Islamic Republic has lessened in the face of the coming presidential election in November. The Obama administration indicated that domestic matters have taken precedence over Tel Aviv's hawkish stance towards Iran.
Israeli decision-making is greatly affected by various factors, including Barack Obama himself. If GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney defeats Obama in the election and becomes president, it would take him months to set a new foreign policy towards Iran, giving Tehran more time to prepare for war.
A second Obama term is also an unappealing option for the current Israeli cabinet, for different reasons.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu despises American President Barack Obama “personally and politically,” researcher and author F. William Engdahl told RT. The pair could be hard-pressed to find common ground on Iran, leading Israel to calculate that a unilateral strike is an option, since America would be forced protect its bases and assets in the event of a regional war.
In Armenia, a country in the Caucasus bordering Iran, a large war game by the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization has been launched.
Iran Watching as U.S. Military Launches Exercise in Strait of Hormuz
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait | The United States, along with more than 27 other countries from four different continents, began Sunday the largest ever military exercise aimed at practicing how to find and destroy sea mines in the waters of the Middle East.
“This is about exercising capabilities that we want to exercise with our partners in the region,” said Pentagon spokesman George Littler this week.” Earlier this summer Little stressed that this training was not aimed at delivering a message to Iran.
However, with tensions heating up with Iran, and Israel threatening to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, a number of observers say the maneuvers at sea are aimed at Iran, and could be a dress rehearsal for war with the Islamic Republic.
U.S. Defense Department officials reject that characterization.
“I think it’s a signal to Iran,” countered Scott Truver, an expert on navy operations and mine warfare. “Despite the fact that the Department of Defense indicated that it’s not directed at Iran … it is sending a good signal to potential adversaries that we can deal with any threat that’s thrown at us, particularly if it’s the mine threat.”
Last week, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the country will closely monitor the exercise. Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters that the military maneuvers are a “very sensitive phenomenon” amid rising tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The military command staging the exercise says the military scenario will “focus on a hypothetical threat from an extremist organization to mine the international strategic waterways of the Middle East, including the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, and the Persian Gulf, although exercise activities will not extend into the Strait of Hormuz.”
The Pentagon has beefed up its deployments aimed at countering Iran over the past year. This summer, the Navy doubled from four to eight the number of dedicated mine-hunting ships in the Persian Gulf. It also deployed a newly converted ship, the USS Ponce, to serve as a staging and command post for mine hunting operations. It also has kept two aircraft carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf, cutting short the home stay of one aircraft carrier in the United States in order to maintain the presence of two such vessels in the Mideast region.
“I think it is fair to say that the current level of U.S. military forces in the Gulf is certainly greater than would be expected simply for operations in Afghanistan,” said Henry Boyd, a research associate for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “The recent additions all seem to be aimed at providing deterrent and-or contingency capabilities against Iran, and reassuring the United States’ existing Gulf allies.”
Over the past year, Washington and its global partners have heightened economic sanctions on Iran in order to pressure the country to curb its nuclear development program. In response, Iran has threatened to mine the Strait of Hormuz. Iran is believed to have 2,000 to 6,000 mines of varying sophistication.
Sea mines are floating devices that explode when they come into contact with ships.
The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most important choke points, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Roughly 20 percent of the world’s oil passes through the narrow sea passageway. Last year, roughly 14 crude oil tankers passed through the Strait of Hormuz every day, carrying 17 million barrels of oil.
At its narrowest point, the strait is 21 nautical miles wide. However, the two shipping channels — one for northbound traffic and the other for southbound — each measure just two miles wide and are separated by a two-mile buffer zone.
Still, Iran is unlikely to mine the Strait of Hormuz at the current time, according to a wide array of analysts interviewed for this article.
“They would be hurting themselves the most because they would be cutting off their main source of revenue, which is oil exports, at a time when they are already being sanctioned heavily and money is tight,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
In addition, China — Iran’s main customer for oil — would not like to see the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf curtailed, Sadjadpour said. “China is Iran’s key commercial and strategic patron and they would really alienate the Chinese” if Iranians were to mine the strait, he said.
And Tehran relies on the Strait of Hormuz for another reason: imports.
Almost all of its imported goods enter through the strait, according to Alireza Nader, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. “Unlike a lot of Arab countries — [including] Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, [which] are building pipelines that bypass the strait — they [Iran] don’t have that significant infrastructure,” Nader said. “So closing the strait would be suicidal.”
However, there is one condition under which Iran might be more likely to mine the Strait of Hormuz, according to Iran watchers: if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“In the event of a [Israeli] military attack, there is more than [a] 50 percent chance they would attempt to close the strait or prevent others from passing through freely,” said Sadjadpour. “They don’t have that many options for retaliation. They can try to launch missiles into Saudi Arabia to spike oil prices; they can try to unleash Hezbollah and Hamas; and, if they want to hurt the world, it’s by closing the strait.”
Another scenario under which Iran might mine the Strait of Hormuz is if its ability to export oil is completely cut off, according to Nader. If Iran “can’t sell most or any of its oil,” it might “retaliate by blocking the Strait of Hormuz or impede shipping,” he said.
Edited by key2thecup, 16 September 2012 - 10:39 AM.