Excerpts from the NYT article “U.S. Adds Forces in Persian Gulf, a Signal to Iran” here:
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.
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.
For President Obama, the combination of negotiations, new sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil revenues and increased military pressure is the latest — and perhaps the most vital — test of what the White House calls a “two track” policy against Iran. In the midst of a presidential election campaign in which his opponent, Mitt Romney, has accused him of being “weak” in dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue, Mr. Obama seeks to project toughness without tipping into a crisis in the region.
At the same time he must signal support for Israel, but not so much support that the Israelis see the buildup as an opportunity to strike the Iranian nuclear facilities, which Mr. Obama’s team believes could set off a war without significantly setting back the Iranian program.
Defense Department officials stressed that the recent reshaping of American forces in the Persian Gulf region should not be viewed as solely about the potential nuclear threat from Iran.
“This is not only about Iranian nuclear ambitions, but about Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions,” the senior Defense Department official said.
“This is a complex array of American military power that is tangible proof to all of our allies and partners and friends that even as the U.S. pivots toward Asia, we remain vigilant across the Middle East.”
Excerpts from Russia Today “Iran Lawmakers Prepare to Close Hormuz Strait” here
Iranian lawmakers have drafted a bill that would close the Strait of Hormuz for oil tankers heading to countries supporting current economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
“There is a bill prepared in the National Security and Foreign Policy committee of Parliament that stresses the blocking of oil tanker traffic carrying oil to countries that have sanctioned Iran,” Iranian MP Ibrahim Agha-Mohammadi told reporters.
“This bill has been developed as an answer to the European Union’s oil sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Agha-Mohammadi said that 100 of Tehran’s 290 members of parliament had signed the bill as of Sunday.
Iran’s threats to block the waterway through which about 17 million barrels a day sailed in 2011 have grown in the past year as US and European sanctions aimed at starving Tehran of funds for its nuclear programme have tightened.
The Strait of Hormuz is a vital shipping route through which most of the crude exported from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq and nearly all the gas exported from Qatar sails.
An EU ban on Iranian oil imports came into effect on Sunday.
Investigative journalist and historian Gareth Porter believes the bill’s introduction is a step in a series of actions that Iran can take to hamper oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, causing oil prices to skyrocket.
“What we can look forward to in the coming weeks and months is that the Iranians will make a series of moves, beginning with this bill in the Majlis, threating to pass the bill; if that doesn’t have an effect, certainly going ahead with the passage,” Porter told RT. “Then first in a series of limited moves towards threatening to actually put mines in the strait to prevent the shipping of oil from going through. And then, I think, Iranians have the option of a very limited use of mines, with very few mines being dropped in this strait to try to get the price of oil to shoot up, for one thing, and to get the United States to react.”