The Other Surge: An Update on Iran
by Sam Gardiner
Military forces continue to move toward Iran. We have more details. In addition, a new concern emerged this morning. Iran may be reacting.
The USS John C. Stennis departed Bremerton, Washington last Saturday and sailed to San Diego to on load its air wing. That has been completed. It is to depart this morning (Saturday) for the Gulf.
We have to keep in mind this deployment was leaked even before the President’s speech on the Iraq Surge. Sources even then said the deployment was about Iran. The Secretary of Defense repeated that theme while he was in the Middle East this week. It is about Iran.
Earlier announcements were that Patriot anti-missile batteries would deploy to the region. We now know that will be the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Regiment from Fort Bliss, Texas. And the DOD announcement says the unit will deploy in February. The press is reporting the unit will go to Kuwait. No question, this is about Iran.
The UK has filled in more details on its mine clearing ships that are going to the region. Their deployment is “to deal with the very real threat of Iran mining the Straits of Hormuz,” according to Royal Navy officers. The two ships are the HMS Blyth and the HMS Ramsey.
On Tuesday an Iranian parliamentarian told a Chinese press service that the Iranians had shot down a US remotely piloted vehicle. This is not the first Iranian report of U.S. RPV’s flying over their territory. About this time last year, the Iranians reported RPV’s were flying near nuclear sites.
UPI is quoting a Kurdish source this morning that Iranian troops are moving to the border area with northern Iraq. This is in the vicinity of Pashmakh, Iraq. It’s not clear what’s behind the Iranian move.
This northwestern part of Iran has been an area of high tension for a number of years. There have been quite reliable reports that the United States and Israel are supporting a Kurdish group that is actually conducting combat operations inside Iran. The Iranians have responded by firing artillery into Iraq.
We will get some sense of the urgency of the Iran surge by watching the Stennis as it moves through the Pacific toward the Gulf. Deployments usually include a port visit during the transit. If we don’t see one of those, it will indicate a tight time line.
I expect we will get even more indication of the direction the White House is taking on Iran from the State of the Union Message on Tuesday.
After seeing all of this unfold, there is an obvious question. What’s the U.S. strategy for Iran? Does all of it mean an attack is close. My sense at this point is an attack is not imminent.
I think we are seeing an unfolding of a broad strategy to put pressure on the Iranians. We have seen diplomatic pressure. We have seen economic pressure with the sanctions. We are now seeing military pressure. It’s not just about the Iranian nuclear program. It goes beyond that. I think the White House is concerned about the growing influence of Iran in the Middle East.
It’s about pressure now. At some point it could be about a strike.