Iran has removed missiles from two boats: US officials

The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and support vessels transiting the Suez Canal on May 9, en route to the Persian Gulf. US officials have raised concerns that Iran's Revolutionary Guards were targeting US naval ships in the area. PHOTO: NYTIMES
The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and support vessels transiting the Suez Canal on May 9, en route to the Persian Gulf. US officials have raised concerns that Iran's Revolutionary Guards were targeting US naval ships in the area. PHOTO: NYTIMES

They claim US' show of firepower in region may have deterred threat of Iranian attacks

WASHINGTON • Iran has unloaded missiles from at least two small boats in its territorial waters in what two US officials said on Friday was a sign of easing tensions in the brewing confrontation between Washington and Teheran.

In recent days, US officials have described satellite photographs showing fully assembled missiles being loaded onto multiple boats in multiple Iranian ports.

The pictures were cited as evidence for concern that Iran's Revolutionary Guards were targeting US naval ships in the Persian Gulf and nearby waters.

Other intelligence picked up threats against commercial shipping and potential attacks by Shi'ite militias with Iranian ties against American troops in Iraq, officials have said.

But over the past two days, Iranian forces removed the missiles from two of the boats, according to a Defence Department official and a congressional official.

The boats, called dhows, had sailed between the Iranian ports of Jask and Chabahar in the Gulf of Oman, the officials said.

It is unclear how many other missile-laden Iranian vessels are sailing in Iranian waters. But the unloading of the missiles on the two small boats, coupled with the unhindered passage through the strategically important Strait of Hormuz on Thursday of two Navy destroyers, the USS McFaul and the USS Gonzalez, prompted some officials to claim that a recent show of US firepower may have deterred the threat of Iranian attacks on American forces.

Communications between the Revolutionary Guards and the Shi'ite militias in Iraq also seem to have slowed - but have not stopped, said the two officials.

The new information, given to members of the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee during closed-door briefings on Friday, came as President Donald Trump sought to defuse the simmering confrontation with Iran in recent days.

Mr Trump has told Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan that he did not want to go to war with Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also asked European officials for help in persuading Iran to "de-escalate" tensions.

Even so, the confrontation is far from totally defused.

US-allied Bahrain warned its citizens yesterday against travel to Iraq and Iran, and asked those already there to return "immediately" for their safety, state news agency BNA said.

Military officials said they expected the Pentagon's Central Command in the coming weeks to request more air and naval forces in the Middle East - more to bulk up its deterrent force and avert future showdowns than to deal with the current tensions.

The entire House will be briefed on the Iran intelligence in a lawmakers-only forum next Tuesday. Nearly all of the Trump administration's top national security officials will lead the discussion.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 19, 2019, with the headline 'Iran has removed missiles from two boats: US officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe