US deploys aircraft to Gulf amid Syria, Iran
WASHINGTON / JERUSALEM
REUTERS photoU.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the United States was preparing for “threats” emerging from Iran and Syria’s turmoil as an aircraft carrier headed to the region ahead of schedule.
The USS John Stennis and its strike group will set forth shortly for the Persian Gulf, a deployment ordered four months ahead of time to minimize the gap in which the United States has only one carrier in the region. The Stennis strike group, which was initially due to deploy at the end of the year to the Pacific, is relieving the USS Enterprise which is slated to be decommissioned.
Visiting the nuclear-powered carrier at its home base in Washington on Aug. 22, Panetta said that the accelerated deployment was meant to deal with numerous threats currently present in the Middle East right now.
“Obviously Iran is one of those threats that we have to be able to focus on and make sure that we’re prepared to deal with any threats that could emerge out of Iran,” Panetta told reporters. “Secondly, it is the turmoil in Syria, and we’re obviously following that closely as well,” Panetta said.
Panetta said the United States was also maintaining its force due to the risk of Iran blocking the Strait of Hormuz and amid the Arab Spring, which “presented both challenges and opportunities.” Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world’s oil passes, in response to punishing U.S. sanctions.
Another senior U.S. official said diplomacy can still solve the crisis over Iran’s suspect nuclear program, adding that it had relayed the message to Israel. “”We are focused on combining diplomacy and pressure, trying to get Iran to be serious at the negotiating table and we are in full consultations with the Israelis about the picture that we see, and we will continue to make those points clear,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Aug. 22.
In another related development, Israeli army chief, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, warned that those who believe they can “eradicate” Israel will face the brunt of Israeli power, in a veiled threat to Iran.
“These days, the state of Israel and its residents are being threatened. These threats indicate a mistaken evaluation of our strength and capabilities,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse . “Those who believe they can eradicate Israel and act on these beliefs will face the brunt of the defense power,” he added, according to a military statement.
Gantz’s remarks come just days after Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei said that the “cancerous tumour” of Israel is the biggest problem confronting Muslim countries today.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Hezbollah claimed to have conducted a massive military exercise in southern Lebanon this week, deploying 10,000 gunmen over three days in a war-game scenario. According to Egyptian daily al-Gomhuria, the drill was personally supervised by Hezbollah Chief Hassan Nasrallah.
The daily said the majority of the exercise took place at the Beqaa Valley and simulated actual fighting and defending of strategic villages. The report also said that Hezbollah operatives have been instructed to prepare the residents of southern Lebanon for the possibility of war.