The head of the Iranian military has warned the U.S. Fifth Fleet to stay out of the Persian Gulf. The latest bluster comes on the heels of ten days of Iranian “exercises” to close the Straits of Hormuz, a mid-range missile launch, and reports that Iran has produced its first nuclear fuel rod, a critical step toward nuclear weapon capability.
As the USS John C. Stennis left the Persian Gulf on normal maneuvers, Gen. Ataollah Salehi, the commander of the Iranian armed forces, issued the threat. “We warn this ship, which is considered a threat to us, not to come back, and we do not repeat our words twice,” Salehi said.
The U.S. Defense Department immediately rejected the warning. “The deployment of the U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades,” according to Pentagon spokesman George Little. “These are regularly scheduled movements in accordance with our longstanding commitments to the security and stability of the region and in support of ongoing operations,” Little said.
Iran’s new round of military bluster coincides exactly with new Congressional legislation signed into law on New Year’s Eve by the President that directs the President to implement crippling sanctions on Iran’s central bank. Despite claims by the Administration of seeking effective sanctions against Iran for quite some time, upon signing the bill Obama said he had “serious reservations about certain provisions” of the legislation including the sanctions. Further, the White House says in considers the Congressional mandate for sanctions “non-binding.” Obama managed to get wiggle room into the final bill that allows him a six month “waiver” for implementation of those sanctions. Charles Krauthammer and many others, expect Obama to use the waiver, effectively caving in to Iran’s threats.
While the U.S. State Department and many national security analysts seem to be convinced that the Iranians are mostly talk with little chance of military action, some in the international community are not so sure. The International Business Times published two articles in the last week speculating that however non-sensible, the Iranians may nudge the region into war.
Beneath the ominous headline of “War Imminent in Straits of Hormuz?” John C.K. Daly explained that Iran has 23 submarines, 100+ coastal and combat patrol craft, 5 mine warfare and anti-mine craft, 13 amphibious landing vessels and 26 logistics and support ships. American might certainly dwarfs that capacity, but as Daly explains, the Iranians don’t measure their might in numbers of ships, guns, sailors or soldiers. “Iran has emphasized that it has developed indigenous ‘asymmetrical warfare’ naval doctrines, and it is anything but clear what form Iran’s naval response to sanctions or attack could take,” Daly says. “The only certainty is that it is unlikely to resemble anything taught at the U.S. Naval Academy,” he adds.
Iran is very much aware that having their hands on the throat of the narrow water passage through which 40 percent of all the traded oil in the world passes on a daily basis offers them enormous global leverage. From time to time they have applied pressure; usually to the benefit of the mullahs. They were also quick to fill the vacant space in Iraq created by the evacuation of the American troops.
Tensions in the Middle East continue to escalate, and Iran is at the center of nearly all the trouble. As the mullahs move ever closer to nuclear weapon capability, the U.S. and the west continue to be unwilling or unable to stop them. And, every effort only seems to increase the tension. That much is known.
The unknown is when does the ever increasing tension reach the breaking point? When do the hostile threats turn into hostile actions? Or, is there still a way to put this nuclear genie back in the bottle? Maybe. But, the chance of cooling the hostile environment would sure be greater if the Leader of the Free World had the strength of conviction of a Reagan or a Thatcher, instead of the willingness to waiver of Barack Obama.