US ramps up Gulf forces to scare off Iran
The US has just doubled the number of minesweepers in the regional waters to eight, and several squadrons of F-22s and F-15s have been relocated to nearby US bases.An American combat brigade is also on stand-by in Kuwait, ready to intervene in any regional conflict.Although some of the movements have been long-planned, others have been implemented ahead of schedule.“The message to Iran is, ‘Don’t even think about it,’ ” a senior Defense Department source told the New York Times. “Don’t even think about closing the strait. We’ll clear the mines. Don’t even think about sending your fast boats out to harass our vessels or commercial shipping. We’ll put them on the bottom of the gulf.”On Monday, the Iranian parliament tabled a motion to close the Strait of Hormuz, turning back any oil tanker travelling to countries that have embargoed Iran’s own oil.The United States and the European Union have restricted the export of Iranian petrochemicals in protest against its burgeoning atomic program, which they claim is aimed at eventually producing nuclear weapons.Iran’s exports have fallen from 2.5 million barrels a day a year ago, to 1.5 million.In protest, Iran’s parliamentarians have threatened to close the narrow waterway through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes.Although, the proposed bill has not been passed, it was intended as a credible threat to the world community.Iran is also in the middle of Great Prophet 7, a military exercise that involves firing dozens of rockets at specifically-built mock-ups of US military bases in the region.The official interviewed by the New York Times confirmed that the US is following a “two-track” policy towards Iran – showing it that it is capable of dominating the Islamic Republic, but also leaving wriggle room for a peaceful resolution.The source also claimed that the government similarly needs to manage the expectations of its ally Israel – giving it protection, but not encouraging it to start an armed conflict with Iran.The other side of the “two-track” approach is being tested this week in Istanbul during a new round of talks between Iran and the U.S., Russia, China, France, the U.K. and Germany over its nuclear program.All sides have sent low-level officials, and no notable breakthroughs are expected.