Posts tagged strait of hormuz
Operation IMCMEX-12 has begun
British and US warships have joined a major naval exercise in the Persian Gulf as tensions between Israel and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear power programme increase. British forces are taking part in a joint operation conducted by the navies of more than 30 countries to sweep the area – a major transit point of maritime trade – clean of mines.
“The UK is committed to a standing presence in the Gulf to ensure freedom of navigation in international waters such as the Straits of Hormuz,” said defence secretary Philip Hammond.
“Disruption to sailing in the strait would threaten regional and economic growth. Any attempt by Iran to do this would be illegal and unsuccessful.”
The show of strength in exercises that include naval deployment by Saudi Arabia, the US and France was designed to warn off Tehran from contemplating disrupting trade routes in the ongoing diplomatic poker game over its nuclear ambitions and Israel’s threat of a strike.
The Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman is one of the most heavily used trade waterways in the world. Some 35 percent of the world’s oil shipments – about 18 million barrels a day – pass through the 21-mile-wide channel.
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been putting pressure on President Obama to threaten Iran with military intervention if Tehran takes its nuclear programme further.
“It’s important to place a red line before Iran – that actually reduces the chance of a military conflict because if they know there’s a point, a stage in the enrichment or other nuclear activities that they cannot cross because they’ll face consequences, I think they’ll actually not cross it,” Netanyahu told CNN.
Iran’s atomic energy chief accused the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, of being infiltrated by “terrorists and saboteurs” after power lines to a nuclear enrichment plant were blown up.
Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani said that just after the explosion at the underground plant of Fordow, an inspector from the agency asked to visit the facility.
“Does this visit have any connection to that detonation? Who, other than the IAEA inspector, can have access to the complex in such a short time to record and report failures? Terrorists and saboteurs might have infiltrated the agency and might be making decisions covertly,” said Abbasi-Davani.
Military officials involved in the Gulf naval exercises played down the political significance of the operation.
“This exercise is about mines and the international effort to clear them,” said Vice-Admiral John Miller, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command.
“The work we will do here will strengthen relationships and enhance mine counter-measures interoperability among participating navies,” said exercise director Rear Admiral Kenneth Perry.
A US fleet spokesman also said that the navy manoeuvres will take place out of actual Strait of Hormuz itself.
Known as IMCMEX-12, the naval exercise will see the participation of two British mine counter measures vessels (MCMV) and one Royal fleet auxiliary vessel. The warships are part of the six-strong British fleet, which includes four MCMVs a frigate and a destroyer, currently present in the area. source – IBT
“My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 121
An armada of US and British naval power is massing in the Persian Gulf in the belief that Israel is considering a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s covert nuclear weapons programme. Battleships, aircraft carriers, minesweepers and submarines from 25 nations are converging on the strategically important Strait of Hormuz in an unprecedented show of force as Israel and Iran move towards the brink of war.
Western leaders are convinced that Iran will retaliate to any attack by attempting to mine or blockade the shipping lane through which passes around 18 million barrels of oil every day, approximately 35 per cent of the world’s petroleum traded by sea.
A blockade would have a catastrophic effect on the fragile economies of Britain, Europe the United States and Japan, all of which rely heavily on oil and gas supplies from the Gulf.
The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most congested international waterways. It is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point and is bordered by the Iranian coast to the north and the United Arab Emirates to the south.
In preparation for any pre-emptive or retaliatory action by Iran, warships from more than 25 countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, will today begin an annual 12-day exercise.
The war games are the largest ever undertaken in the region. They will practise tactics in how to breach an Iranian blockade of the strait and the force will also undertake counter-mining drills.
The multi-national naval force in the Gulf includes three US Nimitz class carrier groups, each of which has more aircraft than the entire complement of the Iranian air force.
The carriers are supported by at least 12 battleships, including ballistic missile cruisers, frigates, destroyers and assault ships carrying thousand of US Marines and special forces.
The British component consists of four British minesweepers and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay, a logistics vessel. HMS Diamond, a brand-new £1billion Type 45 destroyer, one of the most powerful ships in the British fleet, will also be operating in the region.
In addition, commanders will also simulate destroying Iranian combat jets, ships and coastal missile batteries.
In the event of war, the main threat to the multi-national force will come from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps navy, which is expected to adopt an “access-denial” strategy in the wake of an attack, by directly targeting US warships, attacking merchant shipping and mining vital maritime chokepoints in the Persian Gulf.
Defence sources say that although Iran’s capability may not be technologically sophisticated, it could deliver a series of lethal blows against British and US ships using mini-subs, fast attack boats, mines and shore-based anti-ship missile batteries.
Next month, Iran will stage massive military manoeuvres of its own, to show that it is prepared to defend its nuclear installations against the threat of aerial bombardment.
The exercise is being showcased as the biggest air defence war game in the Islamic Republic’s history, and will be its most visible response yet to the prospect of an Israeli military strike.
Using surface-to-air missiles, unmanned drones and state-of-the-art radar, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and air force will combine to test the defences of 3,600 sensitive locations throughout the country, including oil refineries and uranium enrichment facilities.
Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya air defence base, told a conference this month that the manoeuvres would “identify vulnerabilities, try out new tactics and practise old ones”.
At the same time as the Western manoeuvres in the Gulf, the British Response Task Forces Group — which includes the carrier HMS Illustrious, equipped with Apache attack helicopters, along with the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle – will be conducting a naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean. The task force could easily be diverted to the Gulf region via the Suez Canal within a week of being ordered to do so.
The main naval exercise comes as President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, today to discuss the Iranian crisis.
Many within the Obama administration believe that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities before the US presidential elections, an act which would signal the failure of one of Washington’s key foreign policy objectives.
Both Downing Street and Washington hope that the show of force will demonstrate to Iran that Nato and the West will not allow President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian leader, to develop a nuclear armoury or close Hormuz.
Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, reportedly met the Israeli prime minister and Ehud Barak, his defence secretary, two weeks ago in an attempt to avert military action against Iran.
But just last week Mr Netanyahu signalled that time for a negotiated settlement was running out when he said: “The world tells Israel ‘Wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’
“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
The crisis hinges on Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme, which Israel believes is designed to build an atomic weapon. Tehran has long argued that the programme is for civil use only and says it has no plans to an build a nuclear bomb, but that claim has been disputed by the West, with even the head of MI6 stating that the Islamic Republic is on course to develop atomic weapons by 2014.
The Strait of Hormuz has long been disputed territory, with the Iranians claiming control of the region and the entire Persian Gulf.
Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps recently boasted that “any plots of enemies” would be foiled and a heavy price exacted, adding: “We determine the rules of military conflict in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.”
But Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, warned that Iranian attempts to exercise control over the Strait of Hormuz could be met with force.
He said: “The Iranians need to understand that the United States and the international community are going to hold them directly responsible for any disruption of shipping in that region — by Iran or, for that matter, by its surrogates.”
Mr Panetta said that the United States was “fully prepared for all contingencies” and added: “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that the Iranian attempt to close down shipping in the Gulf is something that we are going to be able to defeat if they make that decision.”
That announcement was supported by Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, who added: “We are determined to work as part of the international community effort to ensure freedom of passage in the international waters of the Strait of Hormuz.”
One defence source told The Sunday Telegraph last night: “If it came to war, there would be carnage. The Iranian casualties would be huge but they would be able to inflict severe blows against the US and British.
“The Iranian Republican Guard are well versed in asymmetrical warfare and would use swarm attacks to sink or seriously damage ships. This is a conflict nobody wants, but the rhetoric from Israel is unrelenting.” source – Telegraph UK
WASHINGTON — The United States has quietly moved significant military reinforcements into the Persian Gulf to deter the Iranian military from any possible attempt to shut the Strait of Hormuz and to increase the number of fighter jets capable of striking deep into Iran if the standoff over its nuclear program escalates.
The deployments are part of a long-planned effort to bolster the American military presence in the gulf region, in part to reassure Israel that in dealing with Iran, as one senior administration official put it last week, “When the president says there are other options on the table beyond negotiations, he means it.”
But at a moment that the United States and its allies are beginning to enforce a much broader embargo on Iran’s oil exports, meant to force the country to take seriously the negotiations over sharply limiting its nuclear program, the buildup carries significant risks, including that Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps could decide to lash out against the increased presence.
The most visible elements of this buildup are Navy ships designed to vastly enhance the ability to patrol the Strait of Hormuz — and to reopen the narrow waterway should Iran attempt to mine it to prevent Saudi Arabia and other oil exporters from sending their tankers through the vital passage.
The Navy has doubled the number of minesweepers assigned to the region, to eight vessels, in what military officers describe as a purely defensive move.
“The message to Iran is, ‘Don’t even think about it,’ ” one senior Defense Department official said. “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.” Like others interviewed, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the diplomatic and military situation.
Since late spring, stealthy F-22 and older F-15C warplanes have moved into two separate bases in the Persian Gulf to bolster the combat jets already in the region and the carrier strike groups that are on constant tours of the area. Those additional attack aircraft give the United States military greater capability against coastal missile batteries that could threaten shipping, as well as the reach to strike other targets deeper inside Iran.
And the Navy, after a crash development program, has moved a converted amphibious transport and docking ship, the Ponce, into the Persian Gulf to serve as the Pentagon’s first floating staging base for military operations or humanitarian assistance.
The initial assignment for the Ponce, Pentagon officials say, is to serve as a logistics and operations hub for mine-clearing. But with a medical suite and helicopter deck, and bunks for combat troops, the Ponce eventually could be used as a base for Special Operations forces to conduct a range of missions, including reconnaissance and counterterrorism, all from international waters.
For President Obama, the combination of negotiations, new sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil revenues and increased military pressure is the latest — and perhaps the most vital — test of what the White House calls a “two track” policy against Iran. In the midst of a presidential election campaign in which his opponent, Mitt Romney, has accused him of being “weak” in dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue, Mr. Obama seeks to project toughness without tipping into a crisis in the region.
At the same time he must signal support for Israel, but not so much support that the Israelis see the buildup as an opportunity to strike the Iranian nuclear facilities, which Mr. Obama’s team believes could set off a war without significantly setting back the Iranian program.
A key motivation for “Olympic Games,” the covert effort to undermine Iran’s enrichment capability with cyberattacks, has been to demonstrate to the Israelis that there are more effective ways to slow the program than to strike from the air.
But this delicate signaling to both Iran and Israel is a complex dance. Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that the administration must strike a fine balance between positioning enough forces to deter Iran, but not inadvertently indicate to Iran or Israel that an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites is imminent or inevitable.
“There are a lot of expectations to manage,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview. “People need to know you’re serious, but you must also leave room for peaceful resolution. It’s very important not to take steps that send the wrong messages here.” source – NY Times
Russia warned Israel on Wednesday that attacking Iran would be a disastrous and played down the failure of a UN nuclear agency mission to Tehran, saying there is still a chance for new talks over the Iranian atomic program.
“Of course any possible military scenario against Iran will be catastrophic for the region and for the whole system of international relations,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told a news conference.
It was one of Russia’s starkest warnings against resorting to force, an option Israel and the United States have not ruled out if they conclude that diplomacy and increasing sanctions will not stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
“I hope Israel understands all these consequences … and they should also consider the consequences of such action for themselves,” Gatilov said. “I hope a realistic approach will prevail, along with a sensible assessment.”
Russia, China as well as many allies of the United States are concerned that any military action against Iran could engulf the Middle East in wider war, which would send oil prices rocketing at a time of global economic troubles.
Iran has threatened to retaliate for any attack, or even if it feels endangered, by closing the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for Gulf oil exports crucial to the global economy, and hitting Israel and US interests in the Middle East. source – YNET News
TAMPA (CBS Tampa) — Talk about pain at the pump! Some Florida drivers are spending nearly $6 a gallon to fill up their gas tanks.
According to GasBuddy.com, motorists are shelling out $5.89 for a gallon of regular gas at a Shell station in Lake Buena Vista, topping out at $5.99 a gallon for premium. It doesn’t get better at a Suncoast Energy station in Orlando, where drivers are paying $5.79 for a gallon of regular.
“Prices over in the Disney World area are much higher than any other place in Florida,” Jessica Brady, AAA spokeswoman, told CBS Tampa, adding that people regularly complain about gas prices in that area.
The Sunshine State is opening up its wallet, paying an average of $3.67 a gallon of unleaded gas, 12 cents more than the national average. And it’s only expected to go up.
“It doesn’t look like we will have relief at the pump anytime soon,” Brady told CBS Tampa. “I do think we will see prices surpass $4 a gallon. I think we will see that closer to spring time.” source – CBS Tampa
The Zone of Immunity: The point beyond which Iran’s key nuclear facilities are so fortified that a military attack on the country would become ineffective or impossible. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak coined the term to describe the rapidly closing window of opportunity that they or any other nation has to take out Iran’s nuclear bomb making capabilities before they are all moved deep underground. When the move is complete, Iran will thus be “immune” to attack on their nuclear facilities.
From MSNBC: The Iranian government has blocked attempts to investigate its alleged atomic weapons work, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency said Wednesday. The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, expressed disappointment over a lack of progress during two days of talks in Tehran over Iran’s disputed nuclear program and said its request to visit a military site had not been granted.
In the second such visit in less than a month, a senior team from the IAEA had traveled to Tehran to press Iranian officials to start addressing mounting concerns that the country may be seeking to develop atomic arms.
“During both the first and second round of discussions, the agency team requested access to the military site at Parchin. Iran did not grant permission for this visit to take place,” the Vienna-based IAEA said in a statement after the talks Monday and Tuesday talks in the Iranian capital.
The statement was released early Wednesday, after the IAEA team left on a return flight to Vienna. The unusual timing — shortly after midnight in Europe — reflected the urgency the IAEA attached to the communique.
In the latest in a war of words between the West and Iran, an Iranian general warned Tuesday that the nation will pre-emptively strike anyone who threatens it.
The statement by Gen. Mohammed Hejazi continues the defiant tone Tehran has taken in its confrontation with Western countries that claim it is developing nuclear weapons.
“We do not wait for enemies to take action against us,” said Hejazi, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency. “We will use all our means to protect our national interests.”
Iran has held multiple air, land and sea maneuvers in recent months as the tensions increased.
The military maneuvers are viewed as a message to the West that Iran is prepared to defend itself against hostile measures and to retaliate — including warnings that it could cut the strategic Strait of Hormuz waterway off its southern coast with its naval forces.
Tehran is also under heavy economic pressure. Last month, the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran’s fuel exports and froze its central bank assets. An oil embargo is set to begin in July.
Iranian officials said the country should respond by cutting off EU states early, before they can line up alternative buyers. Over the weekend, Tehran announced that it was pre-emptively cutting off exports to France and Britain. source – MSNBC
WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta believes that Israel could attack Iran in an April-to-June timeframe, and there apparently has been a decision made for the U.S. to help in an assault on the radical Islamic nation’s nuclear facilities.
U.S. military sources tell WND that the Pentagon has begun preparations for “a number of operational plans and counter-operations,” with a Feb. 22 due date for submitting the plans. There also is a request for identifying U.S. forces “by 1 March with a ‘through’ date of October.”
The military sources indicated that U.S. forces will be augmented by an Aegis warship, presumably one of the two in the U.S. carrier task forces scheduled to be in the Persian Gulf. The U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln carrier task force already has re-entered the Gulf.
The Aegis combat system on U.S. Navy ships is used to track and guide weapons to destroy intended targets and to act as a protective shield to counter ballistic missile threats.
The U.S. carrier task forces returned and have recently been augmented to patrol around the Strait of Hormuz, which the Iranians have threatened to block if the Islamic republic is attacked or if increased sanctions are put into effect to halt the export of oil.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Bill Speaks told WND there was “nothing to what your sources are saying,” but he also quickly added that the Pentagon “doesn’t discuss what future contingency plans we have, and I am not going to discuss this with you.”
Panetta first revealed the prospect of Israeli action in a Feb. 2 published interview with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, although the defense secretary was quick to point out that his comments were not intended to send any type of signal.
In that interview, Panetta told Ignatius that he had cautioned the Israelis that “the United States opposes any attack,” although the columnist pointed out that this was not a direct quote.
Until now, the Obama administration has stated that it doesn’t want to be involved in any conflict with Iran unless U.S. assets are attacked – in which case there would be a strong U.S. response.
The apparent U.S. war plans, based on what U.S. military sources tell WND, suggest that the U.S. may not wait for an attack on U.S. assets before responding and instead may be preparing to assist the Israelis in an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Panetta first made his comments following meetings with Israeli officials who said that an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would come before entering a “zone of immunity,” or point beyond which it would be impossible to halt what Israel believes is a program to make nuclear weapons.
Iran contends that its nuclear development program, which includes enrichment, is for peaceful purposes and is its “inalienable right” as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.
Iran also has allowed inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, to look at its facilities. Iran also has stated that it needs the enriched uranium to fuel its nuclear reactors. Iran has a few research reactors and has a larger reactor built by the Russians at Bushehr. Discussions are under way between Iranian and Russian officials for the construction of addition reactors.
The Iranians contend that they have enriched uranium up to 20 percent, which is a level needed for medical purposes. Enrichment greater than 90 percent is needed to make nuclear weapons, but U.S. analysts assess that Iran has run into some technical obstacles precluding that level of enrichment to date.
On Wednesday, Iran announced that it had loaded the first batch of its home-made uranium rods into a Tehran research reactor, since it was unable to obtain them from other countries due to the Western-imposed sanctions.
Israel is assessed by the U.S. intelligence community to have some 400 strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. Unlike Iran, however, Israel refuses to be a signatory to the NPT.
In addition, the Jewish state has consistently forbidden access by the IAEA to its 24-megawatt reactor at the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona and the five-megawatt Center for Nuclear Research reactor at Nahal Sorek.
Israel also intends to build a number of civilian nuclear plants for energy and has suggested building one as a joint project with Jordan under French supervision.
Possible U.S. military preparations to assist Israel coincide with the revelation by similar sources that the Israelis have dispatched a number of naval vessels under cover into the Arabian Sea and that they are moving into its northern regions just off of Iran.
According to the U.S. military sources, the Israeli vessels were positioned at the mouth of the Gulf of Oman which leads to the Strait of Hormuz.
Placement of the covert naval vessels in the northern Arabian Sea allows Israel to use them as a standoff C4ISR, or Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance platform.
This would give the Israelis the capability of not only intelligence-gathering on Iranian communications of its missile and air defense activities but also to coordinate attacks employing jet fighters, missiles and missile-carrying submarines in the event Israeli forces get the order to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Such an attack also would require knocking out Iran’s ground-to-air missile facilities along its coast and near intended targets.
In addition, U.S. military sources tell WND that missile propellant for Israel’s nuclear-capable Jericho II missiles continues to be handled.
Propellant preparation for the Jericho II missiles coincides with recent comments by Israeli officials who say that any attack on Iran would include the intermediate Jericho II missiles equipped with high explosives.
There also are indications of “new and different” large scale coordinated joint Israeli military force exercises.
War-planners tell WND that there would be a multi-pronged approach by Israel using a combination of its nuclear-capable Jericho II missiles, attacks using its fleet of U.S.-supplied F-15E Strike Eagles and commandos to gather forensics at the sites and help illuminate the targets.
Sources say that if Israel were to use the U.S.-supplied F-15 jet fighters in a pre-emptive strike on Iran, there may be some concern at the State Department of a major violation of the munitions control limits placed as a condition for their use for defensive purposes. source – WND F. Michael Maloof, a writer for WND’s G2Bulletin, is a former senior security policy analyst in the office of the Secretary of Defense.