Trump Sends Strike Force to Middle East, Plans More Iran Sanctions

DESPARDES News Monitor – The United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East in response to a “number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran, US national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday.

The deployment of the naval strike group and a bomber task force was based on claims of a possible attack on US forces, Reuters news agency reports, quoting an unnamed US official. ABC News reports the strike group is being deployed to Middle East after indications Iran planned attack on American forces in the region amid report that US plans to announce new set of sanctions against Iran.

The ship was already in Europe for war games with US allies that have been taking place since the end of April, according to BBC.

According to CNN, a US official with direct knowledge of the situation said the threats were against both US maritime and land-based forces in the region. The deployments are aimed specifically at deterring any Iranian military actions, the official added.

In a written statement released by the White House, Bolton said the US was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region in the Middle East  “In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said two weeks ago that Iran would continue to sell its oil on world markets and the US should not try to stop it.”If the United States takes the crazy measure of trying to prevent us from doing that,” Zarif said, “then it should be prepared for the consequences.”US security officials at that time expressed concern that Tehran could respond asymmetrically by targeting US facilities and personnel around the Middle East.But Motwani said that would be a bad idea for Tehran.”I don’t think it’s in Iran’s interest to escalate tensions. It would give the US a reason to take on Iran,” he said

Botlon said the deployment is aimed at sending “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

Mr Bolton added that they would counter any attack with “unrelenting force”.

Bolton said “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.”

This isn’t the first time the USS Abraham Lincoln has been deployed to the Gulf. However, this deployment comes amid growing tensions between the US and Iran

The statement did not specifically state why the deployment is taking place now, but it comes during a deadly escalation between Gaza-based Palestinian militants and Israel in which the two sides have traded a barrage of rocket fire and air strikes in recent days.

The deployment also comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran over the latter’s nuclear program, with the US taking aim at Iranian enriched uranium exports with sanctions.

In comments made Sunday night, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the deployments have been in the works for “a little while.”

“We will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests. And the fact that … if those actions take place, if they do by some third-party proxy, a Shiite militia group, the Houthis or Hezbollah, we will hold the Iranian leadership directly accountable for that,” said Pompeo.

The US announcement comes on the heels several recent events that have increased US-Iran tensions, said Nishank Motwani, a visiting fellow at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy in Australia.

Those include the US designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Tehran’s most powerful military institution, a terrorist organization, and Iran responding with the same designation for the US military’s Central Command, which oversees the Middle East region; and the US eliminating waivers for some countries to buy Iranian oil and avoid US sanctions, Motwani said.

According to Jonathan Marcus, BBC’s Defense correspondent, the Trump Administration’s goal is unclear. Its spokesmen insist that they do not want war with Iran but they can also barely hide their enthusiasm for regime change in Tehran.

So is this US move an attempt to guarantee the existing, uneasy status quo ? Or is it an attempt to turn the screw even tighter?

Many critics of the Administration fear a developing drumbeat towards a conflict which, they fear, could erupt either by accident or by design.

The Trump sanctions have led to a sharp downturn in Iran’s economy, pushing the value of its currency to record lows, quadrupling its annual inflation rate, driving away foreign investors, and triggering protests.

And last month, while the White House said it would end exemptions from sanctions for five countries – China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey – that were still buying Iranian oil.