US rushes Gulf defense systems

Official: Adjustments should be seen as measures designed to avoid aggression.

Iran missile. (photo credit: AP)
Iran missile.
(photo credit: AP)

The United States has begunbeefing up its approach to defending its Persian Gulf allies againstpotential Iranian missile strikes, officials say. The defenses arebeing stepped up in advance of possible increased sanctions againstIran.

The Obama administrationhas quietly increased the capability of land-based Patriot defensivemissiles in several Gulf Arab nations, and one military official saidthe Navy is increasing the presence of ships capable of knocking outhostile missiles in flight.

The officials discussed aspects of the defensivestrategy Saturday on condition of anonymity because some elements areclassified.

The moves, part of a broader adjustment in the USapproach to missile defense, including in Europe and Asia have beenin the works for months. Details have not been publicly announced, inpart because of diplomatic sensitivities in Gulf countries whichworry about Iranian military capabilities but are cautious aboutacknowledging US Protection.

The White House will send a review of ballisticmissile strategy to Congress on Monday that frames the larger shifts.Attention to defense of the Persian Gulf region, a focus on diffusenetworks of sensors and weapons and cooperation with Russia are majorelements of the study, according to documents obtained by TheAssociated Press.

Russia opposed Bush administration plans for aland-based missile defense site in Eastern Europe, and PresidentBarack Obama's decision to walk awayfrom that plan last year was partly in pursuit of new capabilitiesthat might hold greater promise and partly in deference to Russia.

One military official said the adjustments in theGulf should be seen as prudent defensive measures designed to deterIran from taking aggressive action in the region, more than as asignal that Washington expects Iran to retaliate for any additionalsanctions.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton consultedwith numerous allies during a visit to London this week. She toldreporters that the evident failure of US offers to engage Iran innegotiations over its nuclear program means the US will now press foradditional sanctions against the Iranian government.

Gen. David Petraeus, the US Central Command chief whois responsible for US military operations across the Middle East,mentioned in several recent public speeches one element of thedefensive strategy in the Gulf: upgrading Patriot missile systems,which originally were deployed in the region to shoot down aircraftbut now can hit missiles in flight.

In remarks at Georgetown Law School on Jan. 21,Petraeus said the US now has eight Patriot missile batteriesstationed in the Gulf region — two each in four countries. He didnot name the countries, but Kuwait has long been known to havePatriots on its territory.

A military official said Saturday that the threeother countries are the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain — which alsohosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet headquarters — and Qatar, home to amodernized US air operations center that has played a key role in theIraq and Afghanistan wars.

In related news, the American politicalWeb site reported Saturday that CIA director LeonPanetta traveled to Israel last week.

According to the report, Panetta met withPrime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with Defense Minister Ehud Barakand with Mossad chief Meir Dagan. The three, according to an unnamedIsraeli official quoted by the Web site, discussed Iran as well asbilateral relations.

Panetta also traveled to Egypt and metwith intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and other officials during thesame tour. The Jerusalem Post could not verify the report.

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres met withnew International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano on Saturday,the first time a senior Israeli official has met the head of the UNnuclear watchdog organization.

The president expressed hope that underAmano’s  leadership the organization would act in a determinedand serious manner against ’s nuclear arms pursuit.

Peres emphasized that had not respectedthe organization and had not abided by its resolutions. He saidnuclear arms in the hands of a “fanatic” leadership like ’sposed a threat not only to , but to the entire world.

Amano said that a report he planned tosubmit soon to IAEA governors would include the issue, and said thatthe Islamic republic had not given enough respect to IAEAresolutions. Amano added that he planned to visit the in the next fewmonths.