US, Russian French and British air and naval forces streamed to the Syrian and Iranian coasts over the weekend on guard for fresh developments at the two Middle East flashpoints.
The Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov anchored earlier than planned at Syria's Tartus port on the Mediterranean Sunday, Jan. 8, arriving together with the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and frigateYaroslav Mudry.
To counter this movement, France consigned an air defense destroyer Forbin to the waters off Tartus.
DEBKAfile's military sources report a buildup in the last 48 hours of western naval forces opposite Iran in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea in readiness for Tehran to carry out its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.
Britain has dispatched the HMS Daring, a Type 45 destroyer armed with new technology for shooting down missiles, to the Sea of Oman, due to arrive at the same time as the FrenchCharles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.
Our sources report too that Saturday, the giant RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV, took off from theUSS Stenning aircraft carrier for surveillance over the coasts of Iran. The Stennis and its strike group are cruising in the Sea of Oman at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz after Tehran announced it would not be allowed to cross through.
This was the first time the US has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles over Iran since its RQ-170 stealth drone was shot down by Iran on Dec. 4. It was also the first time the huge drone was ordered to take off from an aircraft carrier for a Broad Aerial Maritime Surveillance Mission (BAMS).
US military sources reported Monday, Jan. 9 that the Global Hawk's mission is "to monitor sea traffic off the Iranian coast and the Straits of Hormuz." The US Navy was ordered to maintain a watch on this traffic, another first, after Iranian Navy chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari said in a televised broadcast Sunday night that the Strait of Hormuz was under full Iranian control and had been for years.
Also Sunday, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff, warned in no uncertain terms that Iran has the ability to block the Strait of Hormuz “for a period of time.” He added in a CBS interview: “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that if that happens, we can defeat that.” Gen. Dempsey went on to emphasize: "Yes, they can block it. We've described that as an intolerable act and it's not just intolerable for us, it's intolerable to the world. But we would take action and reopen the straits."
Appearing on the same program, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of a quick, decisive and very tough American response to any Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz.
They both spoke a few hours after a spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards said the supreme Iranian leadership had ruled the Strait must be closed in the event of an oil embargo imposed on Iran by the European Union.
DEBKAfile's military sources report the constant escalation of military tension around Iran and Syria in recent days as not just stemming from the rapid advances Iran is making toward production of a nuclear weapon, but from fears in the West and Israel that Tehran and Damascus are in step over their military plans for the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean sectors.
After the Admiral Kuznetsov docked in Tartus Sunday with much fanfare, the Syrian Navy commander Dawoud Rajha was received on the deck by a guard of honor of marines under a flyover of Russian Su-33 and Su-25 fighter-bombers. This was taken as a signal of Moscow's willingness to back the Assad regime up against any Western military intervention as well as a gesture of support for cooperation between Syria and Iran in their operational plans.
Sunday, the Iranian media issued divergent statements about the situation at Iran's underground uranium enrichment plant at Fordo, near Qom: In English, the site as described as going on stream soon, while the Farsi media reported it was already operational.
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi Davani declared furthermore," …the Islamic Republic is capable of exporting services related to nuclear energy to other countries."
This statement showed that Tehran has no fear of raising the level of its threats to the West up to the point of offering to hand out its nuclear technology to other countries in a gesture of uncontrolled proliferation.