A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lincoln Battle Group Joins Vinson Near the Gulf as Threats and Brinksmanship Continue

I already reminded readers a couple of weeks ago of the sort of tragedy that brinksmanship in the Strait of Hormuz can lead to. But with Parliamentary elections due March 2 in Iran and the US in the midst of a Presidential campaign, and the Israeli government (though decidedly not the Israeli military and intelligence communities) talking tougher and tougher, the situation is increasingly one of those that could spin out of control beyond the control of either side, a powder keg waiting for a stray spark.

When the John Stennis carrier group left the Gulf at the end of the year after conducting the last combat aviation missions over Iraq, Iran warned the US against sending another carrier. That was, of course, a non-starter; the Carl Vinson, though apparently it is still outside the Straits, quickly replaced the Stennis. Now it has been announced that the Abraham Lincoln is also moving to the Gulf Area of Operations.

Iranian Frigate Sahand Burning, 1988 (Wikimedia Commons)
During the Iraq War, the US usually kept two carriers in the area, but the dispatch of the second carrier is a potent reminder that the Iranian threats (made but then backed off from) to close the Strait, but it does raise the level of tension though, frankly, it seems a measured response to an overt threat. Just as I previously hoped the US would bear in mind the lessons of Iran Air flight 655 in 1988, I would also hope the cooler heads in Iran will keep in mind the results of the US Operation Praying Mantis the same year,

In that action, in response to a US frigate striking a mine, the US struck two Iranian oil platforms, sank an Iranian frigate and several smaller craft and damaged a second frigate. It is said to have been the US Navy's biggest surface engagement since World War II, and the first time US Naval surface units used ship-to-ship missiles in combat. The US is no paper tiger, and while Iran has a Navy much rebuilt and armed with modern missiles since 1988, the Vinson and  Lincoln battle groups can defend themselves, too. That just adds to the powder keg, though, and while I personally doubt that Iran really wants a shootout with the US Navy, or that the US Administration is as eager as some in the commentariat to light the spark. I just hope everyone remembers that playing with fire around a gas pump can be risky.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Based on the latest remark from Israeli Defense Minister Barak,it appears that government is also drawing back from the brink. Not sure they were ever really there, but it seemed that Israel was not unhappy about seeing the mounting pressures on the Obama Administration.