At least 200 American and Arab Gulf fighter-bombers thundered overhead Sunday, April 8 at the outset of the biggest air force exercise ever conducted in the Gulf region. They are simulating war with Iran and an operation for reopening the strategic Straits of Hormuz if it is closed by Tehran. debkafile’s military sources report that 100 of the warplanes took off from the USS Enterprise and USS Abraham Lincoln which are cruising with their strike groups opposite Iranian shores. The Saudi, UAE, Kuwaiti and Bahraini air forces contributed the other 100.
In an unprecedented show of military solidarity with the US, Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet High Command, was also chosen by Gulf Cooperation Council – GCC – members for their unified exercise headquarters to be located at the Shaikh Isa Air Base.
Tehran was being told that neither the Obama administration nor the Gulf Arab governments were deterred by its threats of retaliation against emirates placing bases at the disposal of foreign forces for an attack on Iran.
However, shortly after the exercise began, Iranian ambassador to Kuwait Rouhullah Qahremani called urgently on Kuwait Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Khalid Al-Sabah with a warning that the Iranian air and navy would attack the Gulf nations taking part in the exercise unless they withdrew at once.
The Kuwaiti army chief took Iran's threat to the GCC Secretary General for Military Affairs Maj. Gen. Khalifa Humaid Al-Kaabi. Kuwait and Riyadh also briefed the Americans.
The exercise is due to end on April 15, the day after the six world powers launch resumed nuclear negotiations with Iran in Istanbul. However some Iranian sources were hinting Monday that they would not come to the talks under military threat.
Although the participants are keeping the exercise’s scenario under wraps, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources are able to outline its five segments:
1. A practice operation to pry open the Strait of Hormuz should Iran try to block the waterway through which one-fifth of the world’s oil is exported – whether by deploying warships, scuttling old vessels, strewing sea mines or firing shore-to-ship missiles from the Iranian-controlled islands of Abu Musa, Great Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Sirri Island.
The combined US-Gulf force is practicing air and naval assaults against those Iranian island bases and the Revolutionary Guards Corps’ mainland facilities facing them from Bandar-e-Abbas, Bandar-e-Lengeh and Qeshm island. They plan to cut off Iranian reinforcements en route to Hormuz.
2. They also aim to prevent Iranian air or sea assaults on the Persian Gulf emirates’ oil facilities and export terminals, focusing mainly on Saudi, Bahraini and Kuwaiti oil facilities and fields.
3. Air strikes are conducted against Iranian naval vessels, including speedboats, in a simulated exercise to head them off before they strike American aircraft carriers and warships or Gulf fleet vessels.
4. Testing the degree of coordination between US air, sea and marine forces and their Persian Gulf counterparts.
5. The Gulf exercise is in fact the sequel of Noble Dina 12, the US-Israeli-Greek war game conducted earlier this month in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. That war game practiced runs by Israeli fighter-bomber from their home bases to the big American facility on Crete, fueled in flight by American and Israeli tanker planes. The distance between the two points is roughly equivalent to the 1,200 kilometers between Israel and Iran.
In a furious response to that maneuver, the Iranian Chief of Staff Gen. Seyed Hassan Firouzabadi, declared Saturday April 7: “Iran will bulldoze and destroy the illegal Zionist nest.”