Four US warships set to arrive in Gulf waters

By Mohammed al-Jayousi in Manama

USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Arabian Sea on September 22nd, 2019. [US Navy]

USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Arabian Sea on September 22nd, 2019. [US Navy]

Four US warships will be arriving in the Arabian Gulf over the next few days to continue US Navy 5th Fleet and international efforts to secure freedom of navigation in Gulf waters.

The USS Normandy, USS Forest Sherman, USS Lassen and USS Farragut will secure the region in place of the strike group led by USS Abraham Lincoln.

The arrival of the surface combat group comes amid a dangerous escalation in regional tensions, notably the September 14th attack on two Saudi oil facilities.

"The US mobilisation of its forces in their various positions, the maritime ones in particular, is the result of the escalation of Iranian harassments in the region," Saudi political analyst Mohammed al-Zalfa told Al-Mashareq.

The US "considers it part of its responsibilities towards its allies to tackle the security threats in the region and send more warships to support maritime security in the Gulf waters", he said.

The Iranian regime seems to be set on dragging the region into war, since "he who is drowning does not fear getting wet", al-Zalfa said, pointing to its recent sabotage of the security and commercial activity of its neighbours.

The attack on Saudi oil facilities, which has been widely blamed on Iran -- though Iran's proxies, the Houthis (Ansarallah), declared responsibility for it -- "equals a declaration of war against the region and the world at large", al-Zalfa said.

This is because the global economy depends heavily on the region's energy sources, he said.

"There is no telling how much further events will develop," he said, adding that it is clear, however, that there is widespread condemnation of Iran's actions.

The world now recognises that "Tehran is threatening the regional and global economy with its flagrant threats to the sea lanes", he said.

Securing Gulf navigation

The surface combat group, which comprises three guided missile destroyers led by the guided missile cruiser USS Normandy, is set to join the US Navy's 5th Fleet, which is headquartered in Bahrain, in the next few days.

This is a support force for the launch of the US-led effort to preserve the safety of maritime navigation and secure trade corridors in the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, Bahraini political analyst Abdullah al-Junaid told Al-Mashareq.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain will be part of this effort, which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he hopes will eventually include more than 20 countries.

The new combat group will provide additional capabilities in terms of ballistic missile and air defence, anti-submarine warfare and anti-piracy, and will be able to address any breach of sanctions on Iran on the high seas, al-Junaid said.

The group possesses Harpoon anti-ship missiles that can handle any "long range surface-to-sea target, as well as Tomahawk cruise missiles", he said, noting that the group's deployment to the Gulf expresses the US's "clear and explicit stand".

Stepping up joint training

"The Iranian threats deep in the Arabian Gulf require united international efforts to secure maritime navigation, especially when it comes to the threats related to the Strait of Hormuz," said Bahraini political analyst Saad Rashid.

Strengthening the US presence in the Arabian Gulf could send a message to the Iranian regime that "there are defensive forces against the plans that threaten energy’s path in the world", he told Al-Mashareq.

The September 14th attack on the Aramco facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais was a "deliberate attack on the most important source of energy", Rashid said.

This led to a rise in oil prices, he said, "and the world is consequently threatened now by future economic crises" if the Iranian regime's actions are not deterred.

The US warships that will join the fleet in the Arabian Gulf will strengthen the defence capabilities in the region against Iran, he said.

"The next step requires stepping up joint training between the Arabian Gulf states’ military forces to ensure the highest level of readiness to counter Iranian meddling in the region," Rashid said.

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