The guided-missile carrying destroyers USS McFaul and USS Gonzalez on Thursday afternoon entered the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz without incident, US Central Command reported. Experts are divided as to this act means an increase of the chance of a confrontation between the US and Iran, or the opposite.
So far, the two destroyers have not been challenged by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy which is in charge of Iran’s coastal defense and operations in the Strait of Hormuz.
Earlier this month, the White House and the Pentagon cited “indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against US forces and our interests” in the region as the reason for the increased military presence off Iran’s coastal regions.
According to the NY Times, the information about Iran’s intentions to harm US assets—in Iraq—came from Israeli intelligence sources. The Israelis also warned about Iranian plans to Attack Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates (See: Saudi Arabia: Iran Ordered Proxies to Attack Oil Pipeline). On Wednesday, the State Department ordered the evacuation of non-essential personnel from the US embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil.
According to USNI News, the US Navy also operates the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Strike Group, with strategic bombers onboard, off the coast of Oman, and the USS Kearsarge off the coast of the United Arab Emirates near the entrance to the Persian Gulf.
It should be noted that US naval forces don’t have to be this close to Iran’s shoreline to launch an effective attack, in fact, being this close exposes them to retaliation, while attacking from a greater distance would be a safer way to conduct an armed confrontation. This suggests that this considerable show of force is intended more to make a point in future negotiations than to actually start a war with Iran.
The Economist recalled that when President Donald Trump hired his national security adviser John Bolton, he joked that Bolton was “going to get us into a war.” On May 5, it was Bolton, and not the president, who announced the dispatching of the aircraft-carrier strike group and its strategic bombers to the Persian Gulf. The, on May 9, Bolton called for sending 120,000 troops to the Middle East should make good on its threat to restart its nuclear weapons project.
Trump, who objected to the invasion of Iraq (he also supported it on a different occasion), is far from being a war hawk, and not likely to start a new, large-scale military involvement in the Middle East when he has been clearly pushing in the opposite direction. Which means that Bolton is serving as President Trump’s big stick – even though in Trump’s case speaking softly is out of the question.