At least 1,000 US troops are on the way to the Middle East after a request from US Central Command, acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Monday. The US also released new photos showing Iranian involvement in the June 13 attack on two oil tankers.
The photos and the request for troops are a message to Tehran and the region that the US is serious about defending its interests and proving Tehran’s involvement. The photos of Iran’s involvement in removing an unexploded mine from a tanker clearly show an Iranian fast boat with 10 men on board. This is alleged to be an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp boat sent on the afternoon of June 13 to remove the mine from one of the disabled ships.
Why would Iran remove a mine in broad daylight? It was apparently fearful that the ship would be towed to the UAE where a salvage crew and investigators would find the mine and easily link it to Iran. But the brazen Iranian removal also appears to show they felt that even with US cameras rolling, they could do what they wanted in international waters and that there would be no repercussions. Iran has gambled on the US not wanting war.
Shanahan says that the US does not seek conflict with Iran. That means that the US troop deployment is primarily defensive, for now, and that the message is for Iran.
But what is the nature of the message? Iran has announced it will surpass uranium stockpile guidelines set by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and Iran has threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz to oil shipments. It has also been working more closely with Russia, China and Turkey in several major summits in central Asia over the last week. Iran’s message is that it won’t be deterred.
The US now faces a significant challenge. It can keep showing photos, even close-ups of the IRGC men removing the mine or doing other activities. But Iran has wagered that this doesn’t matter.
According to the US, the Iranians even fired a missile at a US Reaper drone that was monitoring the June 13 attack. This also comes after two rocket attacks near US personnel in Iraq, one on May 19, one on June 17 and a mortar attack last Friday, and the May 12 sabotage of four oil tankers. In addition, the Houthis in Yemen have dramatically increased their use of drones against Saudi Arabia. Iran is testing the US and its allies, seeing if there will be pushback.
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