Middle East

US reportedly bolsters presence in Persian Gulf during Iranian missile tests

U.S. bolstering military presence


The United States has reportedly bolstered its air and naval presence in the Persian Gulf as Iran is in the middle of a three day series of missile tests aimed at mock foreign bases.

The buildup is to strengthen the US’ position at the Strait of Hormuz, a key world oil route that Iran has threatened to block amid tightening sanctions over its nuclear program, the New York Times reports.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, such as power generation and cancer treatment. But Western powers suspect the Islamic Republic wants to build nuclear weapons, and Israel has hinted at an attack if diplomatic efforts and sanctions fail to eliminate what it sees as a direct threat.

The message to Iran is, ‘Don’t even think about it,’ ” one senior Defense Department official told the New York Times. “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.”

The Navy has doubled its minesweepers in the gulf to eight ships, while F-22 and F-15C warplanes have been moved and positioned at two bases in the Persian Gulf region.

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As part of the missile tests Tuesday, Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards test fired several ballistic missiles, including a long-range variety capable of hitting U.S. bases in the region as well as Israel, Iranian media reported.

The official IRNA news agency said the surface-to-surface missiles successfully hit their targets, while semi-official Fars said the salvos included the so-called Shahab-3 missile. It quoted a leading officer as saying the missiles travelled distances of up to 1,300 kilometers, or 800 miles.

"So far, we have launched missiles from 300 to 1,300 kilometers in the maneuver," said Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who heads the Guards' aerospace division. He hinted that some missiles had an even longer range.

Iran has tested a variety of missiles in previous war games, including a Shahab-3 variant with a range of 1,200 miles.

Israel is about 600 miles away from Iran's western borders, while the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, some 120 miles from Iranian shores in the Persian Gulf.

The commander quoted by Fars said Iran also plans to use both unmanned and manned bombers in the war games.

He said Iran is testing a variety of other missiles in the exercises, which Tehran says aim to assess the accuracy and effectiveness of its warheads and weapons systems.

On Sunday, a European Union oil embargo meant to pressure Iran over its nuclear program came into effect.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Tuesday that the new embargo is "the strongest" yet imposed on the country.

But he added that Iran should view the EU ban "as an opportunity to wean the country's budget off its dependence on oil revenues," saying that would "remove the weapon of oil from the enemy's hand forever."

Iran is the second largest OPEC oil producer, producing about 4 million barrels of oil a day. The country relies on oil exports for about 80 percent of its foreign revenues. However, a large portion of Iran's crude production is used domestically.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the sanctions would not affect Iran's nuclear activities, but they might damage nuclear talks between Iran and the West.

"As long as they wrongly imagine that imposing illegal and illegitimate sanctions would make us back off on our rights and they can talk down to us in negotiations, such an attitude will definitely have a negative impact on the success of the talks," he said.

Low-level technical talks between Iran and the world powers opened Tuesday in Istanbul, Turkey. That follows three rounds of nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers that have failed to produce a breakthrough.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.