'US strengthening defenses around Hormuz'

Congress notified of plans to beef up sea, land bases in Persian Gulf to stop Iran closing strait, 'WSJ' reports.

By JPOST.COM STAFF
February 25, 2012 06:35
2 minute read.
Iranian submarine in Strait of Hormuz

Iranian submarine in Strait of Hormuz 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Iran)

 
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In an attempt to counter any attempt by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz, the Pentagon is strengthening US defenses in the Persian Gulf, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal on Saturday.

According to defense officials, the US military has notified Congress of plans to beef up sea and land bases in the area, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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The official said that plans will include new equipment to detect and clear mines as well as improved surveillance capabilities in and around the strait, according to the report.

Iran has made a series of threats in recent weeks to disrupt shipping in the Gulf or strike US forces in retaliation if its oil trade is shut down by sanctions, or if its disputed nuclear program comes under attack.

Iran has built up its naval forces in the Gulf and prepared boats that could be used in suicide attacks, but the US Navy can prevent it from blocking the Strait of Hormuz, the commander of US naval forces in the region said earlier in the month.

"They have increased the number of submarines ... they increased the number of fast attack craft," Vice Admiral Mark Fox told reporters. "Some of the small boats have been outfitted with a large warhead that could be used as a suicide explosive device. The Iranians have a large mine inventory."

"We have watched with interest their development of long range rockets and short, medium and long range ballistic missiles and of course ... the development of their nuclear program," Fox, who heads the US Fifth Fleet, said at a briefing on the fleet's base in the Gulf state of Bahrain.

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Iran now has 10 small submarines, he said.

Military experts say the US Navy's Fifth Fleet patrolling the Gulf - which always has at least one giant supercarrier accompanied by scores of jets and a fleet of frigates and destroyers - is overwhelmingly more powerful than Iran's navy.

But ever since al-Qaida suicide bombers in a small boat killed 17 sailors on board the destroyer USS Cole in a port in Yemen in 2000, Washington has been wary of the vulnerability of its huge battleships to bomb attacks by small enemy craft.

Asked whether the US Navy was prepared for an attack or other trouble in the Gulf, Fox said: "We are very vigilant, we have built a wide range of options to give the president and we are ready... What if it happened tonight? We are ready today."

Iranian officials have threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, the outlet to the Gulf through which nearly all of the Middle East's oil sails.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat

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