New York Times: The Obama administration is accelerating the deployment of new defenses against possible Iranian missile attacks in the Persian Gulf, placing special ships off the Iranian coast and antimissile systems in at least four Arab countries, according to administration and military officials.
The New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is accelerating the deployment of new defenses against possible Iranian missile attacks in the Persian Gulf, placing special ships off the Iranian coast and antimissile systems in at least four Arab countries, according to administration and military officials.
The deployments come at a critical turning point in President Obama’s dealings with Iran. He is warning that his diplomatic outreach will now be combined with the “consequences,” as he put it in the State of the Union address, of the country’s continued defiance on its nuclear program. The administration is trying to win broad international consensus for sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, which Western nations say controls the military side of the nuclear program.
As part of that effort, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly warned China on Friday that its opposition to sanctions was shortsighted.
The news that the United States is deploying antimissile defenses — including a rare public discussion of them by Gen. David H. Petraeus — appears to be part of a coordinated administration strategy to increase pressure on Iran.
The deployments are also partly intended to counter the impression that Iran is fast becoming the most powerful military force in the Middle East and to forestall any Iranian escalation of its confrontation with the West if a new set of sanctions is imposed. In addition, the administration is trying to show Israel that there is no immediate need for military strikes against Iranian nuclear and missile facilities, according to administration officials, all of whom requested anonymity.
By highlighting the defensive nature of the buildup the administration was hoping to avoid a sharp response from Tehran.
Military officials said that the countries that accepted the antimissile weapons were Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. They said the Kuwaitis had agreed to take additional defensive weapons to supplement older, less capable models it fielded years ago, while it awaits delivery of an upgraded system that it is seeking from the Raytheon Company. Saudi Arabia and Israel have long had similar equipment of their own.
General Petraeus has declined to say who was taking the American equipment, probably because many countries in the gulf are hesitant to be publicly identified as accepting American military aid and the troops that come with it. In fact, the names of countries where the antimissile systems are deployed are classified, but many of them are an open secret.
General Petraeus spoke about the deployments at a conference at the Institute for the Study of War here on Jan. 22, saying that “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.”
General Petraeus said that the acceleration of defensive systems — which began when President George W. Bush was in office — included “eight Patriot missile batteries, two in each of four countries.” Patriot missiles are capable of shooting down short-range offensive missiles.
General Petraeus also described a first line of defense: He said the United States was now keeping Aegis cruisers on patrol in the Persian Gulf at all times. Those cruisers are equipped with advanced radar and antimissile systems designed to intercept medium-range missiles. Those systems would not be useful against Iran’s long-range missile, the Shahab 3, but intelligence agencies believe that it will be years before Iran can solve the problems of placing a nuclear warhead atop that missile.
As described by administration officials, the moves have several motives. “Our first goal is to deter the Iranians,” said one senior administration official, insisting on anonymity because the White House declined to answer any questions about the rationale behind the buildup. “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.”
As Iran’s nuclear program proceeds — more slowly, American intelligence officials say, than they once feared — Israel has hinted at various times that it might take military action against the country’s military facilities unless it is convinced that Mr. Obama and Western allies are succeeding in stopping the program. In the spring of 2008, the Israelis asked President Bush for weapons able to penetrate underground bunkers and refueling technology in case they decided to carry out a strike. They were turned down, and have since focused on developing their own capabilities.
Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, took an unannounced trip to Israel this month, partly to take the temperature of the Israeli government and to review both economic and covert programs now under way against the Iranian program, according to officials familiar with the meeting.
American officials argue that the willingness of Arab states to take the American emplacements, which usually come with a small deployment of American soldiers to operate, maintain and protect the equipment, illustrates the region’s growing unease about Iran’s ambitions and abilities. Oman, which has always been sensitive about perceptions that it is doing Washington’s bidding, has also been approached, but so far there is no deployment of Patriots there, according to American officials.
One senior military officer said that General Petraeus had started talking openly about the Patriot deployments about a month ago, when it became increasingly clear that international efforts toward imposing sanctions against Iran faced hurdles, and the administration’s efforts to engage Iran were being rebuffed by the Tehran government. In October, the two countries reached an agreement in principle to move a significant portion of Iran’s nuclear fuel out of the country, but Iran backed away from the deal.
In discussing the Patriots and missile-shooting ships, General Petraeus’s main message has been to reassure allies in the gulf that the United States is committed to helping defend the region, said the military officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the topic. But the general’s remarks were also a pointed reminder to the Iranians of American resolve, the officer said.