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Wargames in Gulf take place under shadow of possible Israel-Iran conflict

17 September 2012

According to the Daily Telegraph, a huge gathering of naval forces in the Gulf could be the opening act in a series of events that could culminate in an Israeli attack on Iran and a naval and aerial war to keep the Straits of Hormuz open. This show of naval force is said to be unprecedented outside of war. 

The NATO and allied fleet in the Arabian Gulf will be largest ever assembled in the area
The NATO and allied fleet in the Arabian Gulf will be largest ever assembled in the area

Three US Carrier strike groups, each headed by a Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and vessels from 25 other nations will take part in wargames in the Gulf from September 17 for a total of 12 days. 

The wargames are designed to counter any Iranian attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz to shipping in the event of an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities.

The Telegraph says that the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is with the British helicopter carrier Illustrious on exercise in the eastern Mediterranean, and both could race to the Gulf at short notice. The latest Royal Navy destroyer Diamond is already in the Gulf with four minesweepers to take part in the wargames. They will develop tactics on how to breach any Iranian blockade of the straits and practice counter-mining drills.

Russia Today adds that a fourth US carrier strike group, based in Guam in the Pacific, could also be in the Gulf in a relatively short time.

A blockade of the straits could have a catastrophic effect on economies around the world, many of which rely heavily on oil and gas supplies from the Gulf. Every day around 18 million barrels of oil, approximately 35 per cent of the world’s petroleum traded by sea, go through the straits.

Defence sources say that although Iran’s capability may not be technologically sophisticated, it will try to attack NATO and allied vessels using mini-subs, fast attack boats and shore-based anti-ship missiles. An important element of its area-denial strategy will be to lay mines in the shipping lanes used by oil tankers.

Next month, Iran will stage massive military manoeuvres of its own. The exercise is being showcased as the biggest air defence war game in the Islamic Republic’s history, and will be its most visible response yet to the prospect of an Israeli military strike. Using surface-to-air missiles, unmanned drones and state-of-the-art radar, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and air force will combine to test the defences of 3,600 sensitive locations throughout the country, including oil refineries and uranium enrichment facilities.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, on September 17 to discuss the Iranian crisis. Many within the Obama administration believe that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities before the US presidential elections in November.

Mr Netanyahu signalled recently that the time for a negotiated settlement had run out. He said: “The world tells Israel 'Wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?’ “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps recently said that “Any enemies' plots” would be foiled and a heavy price exacted, adding: “We determine the rules of military conflict in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz.”

But Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, warned that Iranian attempts to exercise control over the straits would be met with force.

He said: “The Iranians need to understand that the United States and the international community are going to hold them directly responsible for any disruption of shipping in that region.”

Mr Panetta said that the United States was “fully prepared for all contingencies” and added: “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that any Iranian attempt to close down shipping in the Gulf is something that we are going to be able to defeat.”

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