The United States is quickly advancing an initiative launched by the Bush administration to field additional missile interceptors in Middle Eastern nations neighboring Iran, the New York Times reported yesterday (see GSN, Dec. 15, 2009).
The effort, touted by U.S. officials as a strictly defensive action, is intended to squeeze Iran, which remains locked in a dispute with Western powers over its nuclear program (see related GSN story, today). It is meant to act as a buffer against potential Iranian retaliation to new economic penalties related to its atomic activities and as an answer to growing perceptions that Tehran is the region's ascendant military power. The deployments were also aimed at discouraging Israel from considering military strikes against Iran's nuclear and missile sites in the near future, according to Obama administration officials.
“Our first goal is to deter the Iranians. A second is to reassure the Arab states, so they don’t feel they have to go nuclear themselves. But there is certainly an element of calming the Israelis as well,” one high-level administration official said.
The additional missiles defenses included “eight Patriot missile batteries, two in each of four countries,” said U.S. Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus. Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to accept missile defense equipment, according to military officials; Israel and Saudi Arabia already possessed defensive systems of a similar nature.
Patriot systems would be used against short-range missiles.
U.S. Aegis-equipped warships have begun maintaining a continuous presence in Persian Gulf waters in order to shoot down medium-range Iranian missiles, Petraeus added. The missile-defense cruisers could not hit Iran's longer-range Shahab 3 missiles, but the Middle Eastern nation is considered years away from fitting nuclear warheads onto the weapons.
Nations in the region, meanwhile, are augmenting their defense capabilities, the Times reported. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have made missile defenses a part of $15 billion in U.S. weapons purchases over the last two years (Sanger/Schmitt, New York Times, Jan. 30).
"Iran is clearly seen as a very serious threat by those on the other side of the Gulf front, and indeed, it has been a catalyst for the implementation of the architecture that we envision and have now been trying to implement," the Los Angeles Times quoted Petraeus as saying (Julian Barnes, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 31).