U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert released some more details about the naval buildup in the Persian Gulf, in a breakfast meetings with reporters on March 16. According to various news accounts, in addition to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and four minesweepers with helicopters, Greenert said that the Navy is preparing five fast patrol boats currently in use, by adding gatling guns and the capability of firing missiles. These boats will be added to five already in the Gulf and, along with short range weapons and sensor systems being added to larger ships, will equip the Navy for fighting close-in battles in the Strait of Hormuz. Greenert also spoke of additional capabilities, to include advanced torpedoes designed to operate in shallow, noisy waters like the Persian Gulf, and unmanned underwater vehicles which can augment the mine-hunting capabilities of the minesweepers. As if that weren't enough, Greenert disclosed that he and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will soon be considering whether or not to send even more aircraft carriers to the Gulf. That decision, he said, will come "in the next few months."
But none of this is being done because of any Iranian military threat. Greenert admitted that no increased Iranian naval activity has been detected on either side of the Strait. "The Iranian Navy has been unto itself professional and courteous," he said.
One has to look elsewhere to see what's behind this buildup and the increased potential of an incident that could lead to war, a war that could come like a bolt from the blue, despite the resistance to it from top layers within the U.S. military. Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner, an expert on war gaming who was consulted frequently during the 2006-2008 war scare, by policymakers, think-tankers and the press, on the issues involved in attacking Iran, warns that the situation in that part of the world looks a lot like Europe in the summer of 1914.
"The [Iran-Israel] situation has a quality of inevitability about it. It has the feel of Europe prior to World War I," writes Gardiner in a report quoted by The Atlantic's James Fallows. The problem is that Iran's determination to get something that may be of less benefit than it realizes, and Israel's exaggerated view of the threat could result in a much wider war. "If Iran responds [to an Israeli strike] even in a very limited way, as it has threatened, Israel can pull the United States into finishing the job on the Iranian nuclear sites and destroying Iranian military capabilities," Gardiner writes. "Europe would be pulled into the fight...."
That a military strike by Israel would pull the U.S. into a war was as much as stated by Panetta yesterday, during an interview with Al Hurra TV in the United Arab Emirates, where he flew to after his stay in Afghanistan. "Obviously Israel is an independent country, and they'll make whatever decisions they make on their own, based on what they think is in their national interests," Panetta said. "If they should make that decision, then obviously the United States will — would take action to protect our facilities in this area and protect our interests in this area." Panetta refused to define the extent of that action, however, despite further probing from the interviewer.