DEBKAfile: The UN Security Council’s Iran sanctions session Wednesday is accompanied by a US Navy buildup and Iranian war games

February 21, 2007, 12:55 PM (GMT+02:00)

Carrier USS Stennis

Carrier USS Stennis

The arrival in the region of the carrier USS Stennis strike group with more than 6,500 sailors to join the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is causing concern in Tehran, which faces tougher sanctions at the Security Council for missing the 60-day deadline for suspending uranium enrichment, as confirmed by the nuclear watchdog director Mohammed ElBaradei.

Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani warned Tuesday that any “non-conventional, illogical or irrational” moves against Iran would definitely receive an appropriate response. He said the issue could only be resolved through dialogue.

Top US Navy commander in the Middle East vice Adm. Patrick Walsh told newsmen Monday that Iran had brought its war games over the past year into the busy shipping lanes in the Straits of Hormuz, through which two-fifths of the world’s oil supplies pass. The moves alarmed US officials about possible accidental confrontations that could boil over into war.

During maneuvers, Iranian sailors have loaded mines onto small mine-laying boats and test-fired a Shahab-3 missile into international waters very close to the straits, said the US vice admiral.

Walsh said the increase in US firepower in the Gulf region aims to reassure Arab allies in the Gulf and prevent misunderstandings that could escalate into outright conflict.

Walsh, who departs his command of the Fifth Fleet this month to become vice chief of naval operations at the Pentagon, the Navy’s No. 2 post, said the Navy was responding to “more instability than we’ve seen in years” in the Fifth Fleet’s region. He listed conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, tensions in Lebanon and the standoff with Iran and its increasing “provocations.” Iranian vessels, he said, have been making “probing” incursions into Iraqi waters.

Regarding a possible US Navy attack if a multi-casualty incident in Iraq was traced back to Tehran, Walsh said he could not to discuss the Navy’s rules of engagement, but added, “There are events on land that can spill over onto the sea.”

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