The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) sails in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia, February 3, 2005..
(photo credit: TIMOTHY SMITH/US NAVY/REUTERS)
US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan stated at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday that the recently increased presence of American forces in the countries surrounding Iran “put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans.”
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen in recent weeks, as the White House officially announced its intention late last month to end sanction waivers on eight countries that are continuing to buy Iranian oil, increasing the US’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic.
Threats have been heard from both sides and the military presence of the US Navy in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea has risen significantly in recent weeks in response to warnings about potential Iranian attacks on American interests and positions in the Middle East.
“That doesn’t mean that the threats that we’ve previously identified have gone away,” Shanahan added. “Our prudent response, I think, has given the Iranians time to recalculate. I think our response was a measure of our will and our resolve that we will protect our people and our interests in the region.”
On May 12, four oil tankers were sabotaged in the Gulf of Oman. While an anonymous US official hinted that Iran or its allies might be to blame. As of Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said that top administration officials told senators in a briefing the recent attacks on shipping and a pipeline in the Middle East were directed by the Iranian government and the ayatollah.
The day after the oil tankers attack, the Iranian-backed Houthis used drones to attack Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. But the US did not respond militarily to the attack on a US ally by an Iranian-backed group. Instead, Saudi Arabia called together Arab leaders. But it, too, has yet to respond.
On May 19, a rocket was fired near the US Embassy in Baghdad. Once again the US did not respond. However, last Sunday, President Donald Trump tweeted, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”
John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, announced earlier this month the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its strike group in the Persian Gulf region over “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”
The Lincoln Carrier Strike Group then passed through the Suez Canal, according to the US Central Command. The aircraft carrier is being accompanied by three destroyers: the USS Bainbridge, USS Mason and USS Nitze, as well as the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf and a Spanish frigate, the ESPS Mendez Nunez.
In addition, B-52s from the 20th Bomb Squadron have landed in Qatar and elsewhere in “southwest Asia” – possibly the United Arab Emirates. And on May 10, the Pentagon announced it would be returning a Patriot missile battery to the Mideast, as well as sending the USS Arlington, an amphibious warship carrying marines, to join the Abraham Lincoln.
Collectively these moves are a response to a possible threat to US forces in the region by Iran, according to the White House, which did not specify what that threat is. Iran dismissed the claim as nonsense, but Bolton warned the Islamic republic that any attack on American interests or allies would face “unrelenting force.”
The US-Iran escalation has put into question the future of the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with Germany and the UN Security Council’s five permanent members: US, UK, France, Russia and China. The US withdrew from the deal in 2018.
Iran announced last week that it had suspended two commitments under the nuclear accord, and threatened to increase uranium enrichment if it was not shielded from the effects of the sanctions within 60 days.
“I think our steps were very prudent and we’ve put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans and that is what is extremely important,” Shanahan said, “I’d say we’re in a period where the threat remains high and our job is to make sure that there is no miscalculation by the Iranians.”Jerusalem Post Staff, Reuters, Seth J. Frantzman and Omri Nahmias contributed to this report.