Coming on the heels of Operation Brimstone just a week ago that saw U.S., British and French naval forces participate in war games in the Atlantic Ocean, the object of which was to practice enforcing an eventual blockade on Iran, the joint task force is now headed for the Gulf and what could easily turn into a major confrontation with Iran.
The naval force comprises a U.S. Navy super carrier battle group and is accompanied by an expeditionary carrier battle group, a British Royal Navy carrier battle group and a French nuclear hunter-killer submarine.
Leading the pack is the nuclear-powered carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and its Carrier Strike Group Two; besides its 80-plus combat planes the Roosevelt normally transports, it is carrying an additional load of French Naval Rafale fighter jets from the French carrier Charles de Gaulle, currently in dry dock.
Also reported heading toward Iran is another nuclear-powered carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan and its Carrier Strike Group Seven; the USS Iwo Jima, the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and a number of French warships, including the nuclear hunter-killer submarine Amethyste.
Once the naval force arrives in the Gulf region it will be joining two other U.S. naval battle groups already on site: the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Peleliu; the Lincoln with its carrier strike group and the latter with an expeditionary strike group.
Telephone calls to the Pentagon were not returned by publication time.
This deployment is the largest naval task force from the United States and allied countries to assemble in the strategic waters of the Persian Gulf since the two Gulf wars.
The object of the naval deployment would be to enforce an eventual blockade on Iran, if as expected by many observers, current negotiations with the Islamic republic over its insistence to pursue enrichment of uranium, allowing it, eventually, to produce nuclear weapons yields no results.
Adding to the volatility is the presence of a major Russian navy deployment affected earlier this year to the eastern Mediterranean comprising the jewel of the Russian fleet, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov with approximately 50 Su-33 warplanes that have the capacity for mid-air refueling. This means the Russian warplanes could reach the Gulf from the Mediterranean, a distance of some 850 miles and would be forced to fly over Syria (not a problem) but Iraq as well, where the skies are controlled by the U.S. military, and the guided missile heavy cruiser Moskva. The Russian task force is believed to be composed of no less than a dozen warships as well as several submarines.
However, Russia is unlikely to get involved in a military showdown in the Persian Gulf, particularly at this time when it is engaged in a major confrontation with the Republic of Georgia in South Ossetia.
For Iran however, a naval blockade preventing it from importing refined oil would have devastating effects on its economy, virtually crippling the Islamic republic's infrastructure. Although Iran is a major oil producer and exporter, the country lacks refining facilities having to re-import its own oil once refined.
Iran's oil – both the exported crude as well as the returning refined product – passes through the strategic Straits of Hormuz, controlled by Iran on one side and the Sultanate of Oman – a U.S. ally – on the other. The strait is about 30 miles wide at its narrowest point, making it easy to control, but at the same time placing Western naval vessels within easy reach of Iran's Revolutionary Guards fast moving light crafts that could be used by Iranian suicide bombers.
Although Kuwait is on the opposite end of the entrance to the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, Kuwait City is less than 60 miles from Iran – and with good reason to worry.
"Kuwait was caught by surprise last time, when Iraqi troops invaded the small emirate and routed the Kuwaiti army in just a few hours," a former U.S. diplomat to Kuwait told the Middle East Times.