The United States has officially confirmed earlier reports of sending more warplanes and additional warships to the Persian Gulf region to deter Iranian moves.
The Pentagon said Monday that it will send additional F-35 and F-16 fighter jets, along with a warship to the Middle East, in a bid to monitor key waterways in the region following Iran's seizure and harassment of commercial shipping vessels in recent months.
Meanwhile, in a telephone conversation on Monday US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed security challenges Iran poses in the region.
“The two consulted on our close coordination to counter Iran, including through regular and ongoing joint military exercises. They noted that U.S. that the US-Israel partnership remains a cornerstone in preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon," White House strategic coordinator John Kirby said.
In May, the White House had announced that the Biden administration would be making a series of moves in the region, but at the time did not say what it would include.
"The (Pentagon) is increasing our presence and ability to monitor the (Strait of Hormuz) and surrounding waters," Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters. It was not clear where exactly the additional jets would be placed and how long they would stay in the region.
A Pentagon official had said earlier that F-16 fighters will be placed in the region, but Monday’s announcement included more weapons systems.
Iran’s latest attempts to interfere with commercial shipping occurred earlier this month when it tried to seize two vessels. The US Navy announced July 5 that it prevented Iranian naval forces from diverting the vessels including the Richmond Voyager, a super tanker managed by Chevron in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrowest part of the Persian Gulf.
Since 2019, there have been a series of attacks on shipping in strategic Persian Gulf waters at times of tension between the United States and Iran. The Revolutionary Guard has seized or attacked 15 vessels since 2019, according to US NAVY. Over the years, Iranian speedboats also harassed US Navy ships, sometimes in dangerous maneuvers.
About a fifth of the world's crude oil and oil products passes through the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point between Iran and Oman.
With the 2015 Iran nuclear deal effectively dead, Iran's relations with the West have deteriorated over the last year, with Iran supplying hundreds of kamikaze drones to Russia that have been regularly used to attack civilian and infrastructure targets in Ukraine. The US and its allies have warned Tehran to seize its military cooperation with Moscow that can expand into supplying ballistic missile later this year when a UN restriction on Iran expires.
Due to former US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and President Joe Biden not being able to revive it, Iran has been accumulating more enriched uranium and could make the fissile material for one bomb in 12 days or so, according to US estimates, down from a year when the accord was in force.
Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, which the West sees as a threat to Israel and Persian Gulf Arab oil exporters. But its enrichment of uranium to 60-percent purity has no civilian purpose and can only be for further enrichment to above 90-percent needed for building nuclear weapons.
Iran also probably wants to use escalatory tactics to force Washington to accept its terms in recently reported diplomatic contacts between the two sides aimed at some sort of a deal over Americans held hostage by Tehran.
Iran wants Washington to agree to around $20 billion of its frozen funds in third countries to be released, which would be significant for its beleaguered economy. Iraq holds around $10 billion of debts to Iran, while South Korean banks hold another $7 billion.