On Wednesday, March 31, the dawn of April 1 in the Middle East, a Western military official in Riyadh reported an American submarine had test-fired a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads from "Saudi territory." It was part of a joint US-Saudi naval exercise last week-.
He reported that US Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, attended the launch. It was the first time the region had ever seen the firing of a nuclear-capable multiple-warhead missile from Saudi territory aimed in the direction of the Persian Gulf and Iran.
The source did not reveal whether the submarine was nuclear or indicate the size of US and Saudi forces taking part in the exercise.
A few hours later, a US defense department spokesman in Washington denied the Trident launch or any other missile during the exercise. He said Lt. Gen. O'Reilly was in the region, but did not attend a missile launch.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources report that the initial story was leaked from Riyadh which stands by it, but the implications of a Trident test-fire from Saudi Arabia are so wide-reaching that the US administration preferred to deny it for now – although it sounded confused.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources stress that whether the Trident was fired from the Red Sea or Saudi Persian Gulf bases was less relevant than the point the Obama administration made: An American nuclear umbrella has been spread over Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab principalities to protect them against Iranian nuclear attack. No matter from what direction or which angle it was fired, the US nuclear-capable missile's trajectory would have brought it close to Iranian shores, either in the Persian Gulf or the Arabian Sea.
US reconciled to a nuclear-armed Iran
The first "Western source" called it part of a demonstration because the Saudis lack the military manpower and radar for handling ballistic missiles of the Trident type. But in late January, Washington rushed extra Patriot anti-missile batteries to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies.
Washington and Riyadh are now planning a joint air exercise soon, as Saudi deputy defense minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan announced Monday, March 29.
The Trident carried three more strategic messages in its passage towards Iranian shores:
The first message: President Barack Obama has come to terms with the reality of a nuclear-armed Iran some time soon and is deploying accordingly to show Tehran and its potential targets in the Persian Gulf that any military use Iran may make of its nuclear capabilities would be met not just with a military response, but a US nuclear comeback.
The test-fire was announced a few hours after the release of a new US Central Intelligence Agency report on Wednesday, March 31, which determined that Iran is forging ahead with its nuclear weapons program notwithstanding setbacks and international opposition.
"Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so," the report said. "Iran continued to expand its nuclear infrastructure and continued uranium enrichment and activities related to its heavy water research reactor…" the CIA report added.
That same Wednesday, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference in Kabul:
"Iran is working to increase its influence in the area. On the one hand, that's not surprising, she is a neighbor state, a neighbor country. On the other hand, the influence I see is all too often negative. I was advised last night about a significant shipment of weapons from Iran into Kandahar, for example."
This southern Afghan city has been marked out as the US-led coalition forces' next major objective in June.
Mullen's words confirmed the United States is on a collision course with Iran on all fronts – not just its nuclear activities and the Middle East.
The second message: Given that the US and Iran are already at odds and an American nuclear umbrella has been thrown over the Gulf Arab nations, Middle East rulers can stop their race for unilateral nuclear capabilities of their own and save the billions of dollars needed to embark on a nuclear arms race.
The third message: The ballistic missile test effectively outperforms and obviates any tough sanctions that might be imposed on Iran, which Obama administration realizes would anyway be impractical given the present makeup of the UN Security Council. With real international sanctions unworkable, Washington has resolved to focus on protecting US Gulf allies and the region's oil resources from any Iranian threat.
Washington: An Israeli attack is now redundant
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that the US nuclear missile test also fundamentally affected Israel's military and diplomatic position in four ways:
1. As the Obama administration sees it, now that the United States is reconciled to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and has provided the Persian Gulf states with guaranteed nuclear protection, Israel has no further need to consider a military option against Iran's nuclear facilities. The Israeli government will have no recourse but to line up behind the US administration like everyone else, including Saudi Arabia.
2. Obama has cut Israel and its defense forces out of the equation of military powers stacked against Iran. Until the Trident shot into the air, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States told American diplomats bluntly they were relying on Israel to eradicate the nuclear threat posed by Iran. This rationale has been swept away together with the prospect of Israel's military involvement in the Gulf region.
Obama's Mid East policy reorients from Israel to Gulf
3. Unlike the Persian Gulf states, Israel has no need of an American nuclear umbrella because it has its own secret arsenal. The only military assistance required from Washington is the means for its self-defense, in the administration's view. Obama therefore has no intention of letting Israel have weaponry for a possible strike against Iran. In this policy, he follows precisely in the footsteps of four of his predecessors, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Where the incumbent differs from them is on the next crucial point.
4. By taking charge of Persian Gulf Arab defenses against potential Iranian nuclear attack, Washington is not only lining up with their capitals on shared military objectives but also with their diplomatic agenda.
American diplomatic weight in the region is thus reorienting itself from Israel to the Gulf nations, from Jerusalem to Riyadh.
This tectonic shift will show up strongly in Washington's regional and international conduct; if until now, the United States often spoke for and supported Israel's positions in Middle Eastern and international arenas that affinity will tilt increasingly towards the Gulf nations.
The US president used the private Passover Seder he attended with his Jewish staff and their families in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House on March 29 to underscore his new stance: "The enduring story of Exodus teaches us that wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won."
The president's staff had no doubt he was referring to the Palestinian cause.