Amid increasing tensions over the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, the United States is constructing a missile-defense radar station at a secret site in Qatar and organizing its largest-ever minesweeping exercises in the Persian Gulf, the Wall Street Journal quoted US officials as saying Monday.

The bolstering of the US military in the Gulf is designed to defend the US, Israel and EU countries against Iranian rockets, officials said.

The radar base in Qatar will supplement two similar X-band radars already in place in Israel's Negev and central Turkey, according to officials. Together, the three sites will form an arc to detect missile launches from within Iranian territory. The report also stated that the installations will also be linked to US missile interceptor batteries.

The Journal report came after the US Navy deployed small underwater drones capable of destroying sea mines to the Persian Gulf, according to The Los Angeles Times. The US has also sent a navy ship, previously slated for decommissioning, to help with mine-clearing operations, part of a series of moves indicating a gradual US build-up as tensions with Iran smoulder.

Four US minesweepers arrived in the Gulf last month to bolster the Fifth Fleet and ensure the safety of shipping routes in a waterway through which 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil exports flow.

Tensions have simmered in the Gulf with big-power diplomacy to ease the nuclear dispute at an impasse and Israel renewing veiled threats to attack Iranian atomic sites from the air if sanctions and negotiations fail to curb Iran's nuclear advances.

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Iranian officials issued a string of hawkish statements over the past week, including a renewed threat to close the Strait and destroy US bases in the region "within minutes" of an attack .Iran has repeatedly warned of reprisals for any Israeli or US-led strike on its nuclear installations, whose activities it says are purely peaceful but the West suspects are geared to developing the means to produce nuclear arms.

Reuters contributed to this report

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