(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. is sending an aircraft carrier group and a bomber task force to the “U.S. Central Command region” in a message to Iran and its proxies, National Security Advisor John Bolton said late Sunday.
“In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force,” Bolton said in a statement.
“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] or regular Iranian forces.”
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) “area of responsibility” covers the Middle East and South Asia from Egypt to Pakistan.
Bolton did not elaborate on the “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” by the regime.
Over the weekend, Iranian-backed terrorists in Gaza launched hundreds of rockets into Israel.
News of the sea and air deployment also comes weeks after the Iranian regime declared CENTCOM and associated forces to be “terrorists,” and after senior regime officials, including the head of the IRGC Navy, warned that Iran will block the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz if it prevented from using the waterway to ship its oil.
That rhetoric was in response to the Trump administration’s designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, and its decision – which took effect on Friday – not to renew waivers allowing Iran’s remaining oil customers to continue buying it without risking U.S. sanctions.
Those measures and others are designed to pressurize the regime into changing what the administration calls its “malign” behavior in the region and at home.
The most recent U.S. steps, announced Friday, included the imposition of sanctions against any party that helps Iran to develop its nuclear power plant at Bushehr beyond the existing reactor unit, and a ban on any actions that support Iranian uranium enrichment.
Also on Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif again raised warnings about Hormuz, telling the Al Jazeera television network that the strait was a “lifeline” for his country’s economy, and that if the U.S. “tries to take coercive measures it will be reciprocated by Iran.”
He added that he did not think that was on the cards.
During a visit to the U.S. late last month, Zarif told an audience at the Asia Society that if the U.S. wanted to transit Hormuz, it would need to talk to the IRGC.
“It is in our interest, our vital national security interest, to keep the Persian Gulf open, to keep the Strait of Hormuz open,” he said. “We’ve done that in the past and we will continue to do that in the future. But the United States should know that when they enter the Strait of Hormuz, they have to talk to those who are protecting the Strait of Hormuz – and that is the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.”
Asked whether he was making the U.S. transiting the strait a “red line,” Zarif said the rules of engagement have not changed, but that vessels entering the channel do so by arrangement with Iran.
According to the Energy Information Administration, almost one-third of the world’s daily seaborne-traded crude oil traverses Hormuz en route to markets in Asia and the West.
Located between Iran, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, the strait is 21 miles across at its narrowest point. Ships use two-mile wide channels in each direction, sailing through Iranian and Omani territorial waters, exercising their right of “innocent passage” under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The carrier strike group referred to by Bolton includes the Nimitz-class USS Abraham Lincoln, the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, destroyers, and a carrier air wing.
It departed Norfolk, Va. on April 1, and late last month was taking part in joint maritime warfare exercises with Italian naval forces in the Mediterranean. Earlier the U.S. Navy said those exercises, known as Mare Aperto (“Open Sea”), would run through May 10.