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.”
So Russia appears to have denied reports which appeared in Fars News today, about a joint military exercise with China, Iran and Syria. Voice of Russia, the Russian government’s international radio broadcasting service, reported today:
“Russia has denied reports in media that it allegedly planned joint military exercises with China and Iran on Syrian territory.
‘This is absurd’, Mr. Igor Dygalo, aide to Russia’s Navy commander said.
Earlier this week the Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV channel reported that Russia, China and Iran were planning joint exercises, the largest in the Middle East, comprising some 90,000 ground, naval and air forces, as well as 400 aircrafts, 1,000 tanks and Russian submarines, destroyers and an aircraft carrier.
The report said that Egypt had allowed 12 Chinese navy ships to go through the Suez Canal to arrive in Syria.
This false report also claimed that Syria was going to test its anti-ship missiles and air defense system.”
Syria has also denied the reports: “This information is out of synch with reality,” said Buseina Shaaban, political advisor to the Syrian president”.
But it’s no coincidence that this denial comes on the heels of another denial about yet another report which first appeared last week in the non-governmental Russian news agency , Interfax. As reported by the Guardian:
”The Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Russian navy official as saying two amphibious landing vessels, Nikolai Filchenkov and Caesar Kunikov, would be heading shortly to the Syrian port of Tartus, but gave no precise date.
The official said the ships would carry an unspecified number of marines to protect Russians in Syria and evacuate some equipment from Tartus if necessary.
Interfax said each of the ships was capable of carrying 150 marines and a dozen tanks. It quoted a deputy Russian air force chief as saying Russia would give the necessary protection to its citizens in Syria.
"We must protect our citizens," Major-General Vladimir Gradusov told Interfax. "We won’t abandon the Russians and [we will] evacuate them from the conflict zone if necessary."
State owned, Russian International News Agency, RIA Novosti, denied the story, despite the deputy Russian air force chief’s remarks. Since it is unlikely that Interfax would fabricate a quote or that an air force general would dare reveal or invent such plans without official cover, both this story and today’s reports about the joint military drill can be viewed as Russian-Iranian-Syrian psych-ops. What lends further credence to this assumption is this story here . A Russian cargo vessel, the MV Alaed, allegedly carrying refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters and other munitions was stopped 80 km off Scotland’s coast. Apparently, the ship was en route to Russia after having completed the shipment. Particularly suspicious is why the Russians would risk interception on British territory only days after having been warned by the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to halt all defence shipments to Syria.
A very plausible explanation for this flurry of reports followed by coordinated denials, is that the Russians and their allies are engaged in psychological warfare with the United States and NATO/GCC, particularly in the context of the Obama-Putin talks on Syria among other issues. These reports also come in the context of the Iranian-6 power faltering negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, and the possibility of an Israeli/US strike on Iran should the latter talks fail. As such, these psych-ops may well be a direct response to Washington’s repeated threats of military intervention in Syria, which include Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey’s, recent threat to resort to force in Syria. What shape or form Russian intervention would assume if Syria were attacked, remains to be seen though one can expect, at the very least, an increase in covert and overt military assistance to the Syrian government.
Let the war games begin. Hopefully this will serve as a deterrent to a real war launched by NATO et al against Syria and/or an Israeli or US strike on Iran. Original story appeared in the semi-official Iranian news agency, Fars News here, but has since been reproduced by mainstream Israeli media such as the Jerusalem Post here, Haaretz here and Ynet News here. It has also appeared in Arab and other media. It is worth noting here that this story was announced by an Iranian news agency in the midst of faltering talks over Iran’s nuclear program. But it clearly signals a shift from “soft” balancing to “hard” balancing, as comrade Hosam Mattar argues in this piece written days before the military drill: http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/95597. Such a shift to hard balancing is indeed a rarity in a unipolar world order.
Here is the full Fars story:
Iran, Russia, China, Syria to Stage Biggest Joint Wargames in Middle-East
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Iranian, Russian, Chinese and Syrian armies are due to stage joint amphibious exercises along the Syrian costs in coming weeks, informed sources revealed on Monday.
According to informed sources, 90,000 forces from the four countries will take part in the land and sea wargames due to be held in Syria.
Ground, air and sea forces as well as air defense and missile units of the four countries will take part in the exercises.
Sources also said that Egypt has acceded to grant passage to 12 Chinese warships to sail through the Suez Canal, adding that the military convoy is due to dock at the Syrian harbors in the next two weeks.
Russian atomic submarines and warships, aircraft carriers and mine-clearing destroyers as well as Iranian battleships and submarines will also arrive in Syria at around the same date.
Syria plans to test its coast-to-sea and air defense missiles in the wargames.
A sum of 400 warplanes and 1,000 tanks will also be used in the exercises.
A Syrian official, who asked to remain anonymous, had informed two weeks ago that the drills would be conducted in Syria soon.
Unofficial sources also said the four countries are now busy with taking swift preparatory measures for these biggest-ever wargames in the Middle-East.
Sham Life reported that the maneuvers will be stage in less than one month from now, that is early June.