A senior official is traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates throughout the Middle East, and visited Iraq the other day. Today, he was in Bahrain, headquarters for U.S. Central Command's Naval Forces, as reported in this DoD website article. The Command, which includes the U.S. 5th Fleet and naval units from six countries, including the UK and Australia, patrols the Persian Gulf and keeps a wary eye on the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint.
It is obvious that the major threat comes from Iran, as the unidentified "senior official" in this article excerpt states. And yet, after making this clear, why does he then say naval forces operations are "not about Iran?" Fallout from the NIE, or something to do with SecDef Gates recent embrace of "soft power?"
"Of particular concern is Iran, a growing threat to the region that's building its navy and Revolutionary Guard to become more capable forces. "I wake up thinking about Iran. I go to bed thinking about Iran," another senior official said.
One of the greatest threats Iran's naval forces could pose would be to follow through on the country's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz to international shipping. A senior official here told reporters it's unlikely Iran would attempt such a measure any time soon, but that the rhetoric alone has a destabilizing effect.
"It's coercive, intended to intimidate the global market," he said. "I just don't think it's responsible behavior."
The official had similar views about an incident earlier this year when Iranian forces seized 15 British sailors during a routine search operation in the Persian Gulf's Shatt al Arab waterway. "You don't detain somebody in the international waters of your neighbor," an official said, calling it "an illegal act."
While recognizing the importance of checking Iranian aggression, a senior official emphasized that the coalition operating here "is not about Iran," but rather the broader security interests of the region. "The collaborative nature of what we do, from a coalition perspective, I see as enduring," he said.