debkafile: No sign of Iran backing down on banned uranium enrichment in face of negative nuclear watchdog report and US Navy buildup
Nuclear watchdog director Mohammed ElBaradei reported Wednesday to the UN Secretary that Iran had not only missed the 60-day deadline for suspending uranium enrichment but had accelerated the process. Monday, the carrier USS Stennis strike group arrived in the region with more than 6,500 sailors to join the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Top US Navy commander in the Middle East vice Adm. Patrick Walsh told newsmen Monday that Iran had brought its war games over the past year into the busy shipping lanes in the Straits of Hormuz, through which two-fifths of the world’s oil supplies pass. The moves alarmed US officials about possible accidental confrontations that could boil over into war.
During maneuvers, Iranian sailors have loaded mines onto small mine-laying boats and test-fired a Shahab-3 missile into international waters very close to the straits, said the US vice admiral.
Walsh said the increase in US firepower in the Gulf region aims to reassure Arab allies in the Gulf and prevent misunderstandings that could escalate into outright conflict.
Walsh, who departs his command of the Fifth Fleet this month to become vice chief of naval operations at the Pentagon, the Navy’s No. 2 post, said the Navy was responding to “more instability than we’ve seen in years” in the Fifth Fleet’s region. He listed conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, tensions in Lebanon and the standoff with Iran and its increasing “provocations.” Iranian vessels, he said, have been making “probing” incursions into Iraqi waters.
Regarding a possible US Navy attack if a multi-casualty incident in Iraq was traced back to Tehran, Walsh said he could not to discuss the Navy’s rules of engagement, but added, “There are events on land that can spill over onto the sea.”