The recent mass deployment of UK and U.S. forces in the Arabian Gulf has been downplayed by defense experts on Sunday, brushing off suggestions that the substantial military moves were linked to a possible Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Asked if the exercise has anything to do with the ongoing tension between Israel and Iran, Lt. Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, told Al Arabiya English: “No; this international mine countermeasures exercise 2012 is not being conducted in response to any one particular threat or a specific situation."
The U.S. Navy announced, on August 30th, in a press release posted on its official blog (http://navylive.dodlive.mil/) that “the U.S. Fifth Fleet will host its first International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX)” in the Arabian Gulf . “With more than 20 nations participating from Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and North America, IMCMEX 2012 will be the largest of its kind ever in this region,” according to the U.S. Navy statement.
The statement added “that IMCMEX 12 is a defensive exercise aimed at preserving freedom of navigation in international waterways in the region.”
“The international community has a critical shared interest in the free flow of commerce via strategic waterways,” the statement added.
With the looming possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, recent media speculation has asserted that Western battleships, minesweepers and submarines massing near the strategic Strait of Hormuz could be an unprecedented show of force by the bloc.
But these reports could be giving the situation a “significance it doesn’t deserve,” British defense analyst, Paul Smyth, told Al Arabiya English on Sunday, rebuffing speculations that the Western military moves were taken with political intent.
The main worry, which has prompted media guesswork, is Western concern that Iran’s retaliation to an Israeli attack could involve a blockade of the shipping lane, or an attempt to mine it. About 18 million barrels of oil -- approximately 35 percent of the world’s petroleum traded by sea in 2011 — are being shipped through the Strait of Hormuz every day.
A possible blockade of the strait would have a cataclysmic effect on the already fragile economies of Britain, France, the United States and Japan, all of which rely heavily on oil and gas supplies from the Gulf.
A statement released by the UK Ministry of Defence earlier this week explained that British involvement in the region has been part of an “enduring commitment.”
“The UK has provided an enduring naval commitment to the region for more than 30 years, culminating in today’s presence which includes a frigate, a destroyer and four mine countermeasures vessels as well as numerous personnel who are dedicated to reassuring our allies and protecting both UK interests and those of the wider international community,” according to the statement.
The multi-national naval force in the Gulf includes three U.S. Nimitz class groups, each of which has more aircrafts than the entire complement of the Iranian air force, according to British media reports.
However, “there are only 2 carriers in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of responsibility. One is the USS Enterprise (CVN 65), an ‘Enterprise Class’ aircraft carrier. The other is USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), a ‘Nimitz Class’ aircraft carrier.” U.S. Lt. Greg Raelson explained to Al Arabiya English.
This week, Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond travelled to Bahrain, on a visit to the United Kingdom Maritime Component Command headquarters, and reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to the region.
“The UK is committed to a standing presence in the Gulf to ensure freedom of navigation in international waters such as the Strait of Hormuz,” he said.
“Protecting this inter-connected system of maritime trade security is a key interest to the U.S. and also nations in and outside of this region. This exercise is an effort to decrease the international threat of mining and to enhance our combined capabilities so that we can promote long-term stability,” U.S. Lt. Greg Raelson told Al Arabiya English.
The United States and Israel say “all options” remain on the table if talks aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear activities, condemned in several sets of sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council, fail
World powers and Iran revived negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program this year, which Israel believes is a threat to its security. But both sides seem to have reached an impasse after several rounds of talks.