Days after Iran unveiled its first stealth destroyer in a televised ceremony on Saturday which saw the warship launched into operation in the Persian Gulf, and after the US condemned Iran’s test firing a medium-range nuclear capable ballistic missile on Sunday, Pentagon officials have announced the U.S. is sending an aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf in a show of force against Iran.
US officials told the Wall Street Journal the USS John C. Stennis and support ships will arrive in the Middle East “within days” — which will bring a close what’s been described as the longest period in two decades that a carrier group was absent from the region. Specifically the unnamed officials identified the purpose as to “exhibit a show of force against Iran” at a moment tensions are soaring after Nov. 4 renewed sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector. The White House has vowed that it will work with international allies to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero in continuing economic warfare that could easily spark direct military confrontation.
The Stennis is scheduled to remain in the region for about two months, the officials said, spending most of that time in the Persian Gulf. Its presence “certainly provides a deterrence” against any potentially hostile Iranian activity in the region’s waters, one of the officials said.
Responding to the unprecedented sanctions regimen after President Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 JCPOA, Iran’s military leadership has over the past months issued a counter threat of blockading the vital Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, which would strangle global oil shipping. The US carrier presence inches the world closer to witnessing a major flare up in the gulf which could send the price of oil soaring.
In early November, for example, a prominent hardline cleric told a Friday prayer gathering in Mashhad, considered Iran’s spiritual capital, that Iran has the power to “instantly” create conditions for $400 a barrel oil prices if it decides to act in the Persian Gulf.
Shia cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda grabbed headlines at the time by declaring, “If Iran decides, a single drop of this region’s oil will not be exported and in 90 minutes all Persian Gulf countries will be destroyed.”
It appears the presence of the USS John C. Stennis is designed to prevent such a possibility from happening. Officials also said the carrier group will support the US war in Afghanistan as well as operations against remnant ISIS pockets in Iraq and Syria. But despite current tensions with Iran, Pentagon officials have underscored that the carrier mission was previously scheduled, while also touting its Iranian deterrent mission.
In recent comments over Iran’s developing ballistic missile program, the State Department’s special representative on Iran, Brian Hook, said the “military option” is on the table.
“We have been very clear with the Iranian regime that we will not hesitate to use military force when our interests are threatened. I think they understand that. I think they understand that very clearly,” Hook said late last week.
“I think right now, while we have the military option on the table, our preference is to use all of the tools that are at our disposal diplomatically,” he added.