US beefing up Gulf presence against possible Iran attacks

Pentagon acts after new intelligence shows Teheran mobilising proxies in Iraq, Syria

WASHINGTON • The Pentagon will deploy a Patriot anti-missile battery to the Middle East to shore up defences against Iranian threats, part of a series of carefully calibrated deployments intended to deter attacks by Iranian forces or their proxies, Pentagon officials said last Friday.

A single Patriot anti-missile battery will return to the Persian Gulf just a few months after four batteries were withdrawn from the region.

The Pentagon also said it would replace one navy ship in the region with a more capable vessel, the Arlington - an amphibious ship designed to carry Marines and combat helicopters.

Officials said the new deployments were part of the original request made last weekend by the military's Central Command after the Trump administration said new intelligence showed that Iran was mobilising proxy groups in Iraq and Syria to attack US forces.

As a result, the Pentagon sent B-52 bombers this week to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and the Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier passed through the Suez Canal on its way to the Persian Gulf.

The new steps are meant to be measured and limited, in part because a new intelligence analysis by US and allied spy services has concluded that the Iranian government, declining in popularity amid economic woes, is trying to provoke the United States into a military overreaction to cement its hold on power, according to US and allied intelligence officials.

The US intelligence community has not yet done a broader official assessment that would incorporate views from multiple agencies.

Still, divisions within the Trump administration are growing between officials advocating sharp limits on new military deployments and a more hawkish camp that believes the US must be prepared for a larger-scale fight with Iran.

Military planners were ordered this week to begin preparing for the possibility of a much larger deployment to the region in the event of a military conflict with Iran, two US officials said.

The new deployments, planning efforts and intelligence analysis came after the US developed new information last weekend about Iran mobilising its proxy forces.

This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said US intelligence had concluded that Iranian-sponsored attacks on US forces "were imminent".

US and allied intelligence services intercepted communications between the Iranian government and its proxy forces that analysts have interpreted as encouraging attacks by Iranian-backed terrorist groups on US forces and bases in the Middle East.

Last Friday, a Pentagon official said the US had detected "anomalous naval activity" by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and commercial ships suspected of carrying missiles and other military hardware.

The new intelligence analysis said that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani believed an attack by proxy forces, or the perception that those forces are preparing a strike, could prompt the US to strike at an Iranian military target, such as a naval ship or a base, according to US and allied intelligence officials.

The Iranian strategy, the analysis said, is to prod the US into a miscalculation or overreaction.

US officials do not think Iran wants a war, or even a large-scale conflict.

But a more limited strike by the US could serve the Iranian strategy, the analysis said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 12, 2019, with the headline 'US beefing up Gulf presence against possible Iran attacks'. Print Edition | Subscribe