While populations across the globe rang in the new year and are now enjoying the holiday, wondering what 2021 will hold, tensions in the Persian Gulf between the US and Iran just grew hotter.
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reports Iran’s forces in the Persian Gulf are now on high alert, possibly in preparation for some level of either offensive or defensive action.
“Iranian maritime forces in the Persian Gulf raised readiness levels in last 48 hours,” Starr writes based on a US defense official. But it remains that it’s “not clear if moves are ‘defensive’ because expect US attack, or are signals Iran preparing for operations in the Gulf against the US,” the official said.
The Pentagon is bracing for many “unknowns” ahead of Sunday, which marks the one year anniversary of the killing of IRGC Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani by US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport. Days ago the US flew a pair of B-52 bombers over the Persian Gulf as a “warning” aimed at deterring any Iranian attempt at retaliation for the Jan, 3rd, 2020 death of the popular Iranian general.
Threats and counter-threats have continued to be issued throughout the week, with the latest coming from Iran’s military on Friday, according to the AP:
The top commander of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard [Gen. Hossein Salami] said Friday that his country was fully prepared to respond to any U.S. military pressure as tensions between Tehran and Washington remain high in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
So essentially both sides are poised with fingers on the trigger in anticipation of a provocation by the other side in an intensifying standoff which could very easily escalate into the very conflict both hope to avoid. Iran’s Foreign Ministry has further charged that Trump is attempting to generate a provocation or “pretext for war” – specifically with the prior B-52 flyover.
Just In: Iranian maritime forces in the Persian Gulf raised readiness levels in last 48 hours: US official with latest info. Not clear if moves are “defensive” because expect US attack, or are signals Iran preparing for operations in the Gulf against the US, official said. #Iran
— Barbara Starr (@barbarastarrcnn) January 1, 2021
Gen. Salami said at a commemoration event Friday at Tehran University that “Today, we have no problem, concern or apprehension toward encountering any powers. We will give our final words to our enemies on the battlefield.“
Iran’s official media accounts in English have also been active ahead of the Soleimani death anniversary under the hashtag #WillNeverForgetWillNeverForgive.
By committing a craven act of terror against Gen Soleimani, the US violated int’l law & the UN Charter in a blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
— Iran Foreign Ministry 🇮🇷 (@IRIMFA_EN) January 1, 2021
Meanwhile there’s been mixed signals out of Washington: on the one hand there’s been clear and aggressive ‘deterrence’ messaging such as the latest bomber flyover, but on the other yesterday the Pentagon announced it is bringing the USS Nimitz supercarrier home from the gulf region.
As the AP explained of the move: “Sending the aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, home to the U.S. West Coast would seem at odds with the idea that a show of force is needed to deter Iran. This might reflect a split within the defense establishment on whether Iran poses a heightened threat to strike in the waning days of the Trump administration.“