The U.S. is sending  a Patriot missile defense system and another warship to the Middle East amid escalating tension with Iran, the Pentagon said Friday. The Patriot system can counter advanced aircraft, drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.
The B-52 bombers ordered by the White House arrived at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Thursday. The USS Arlington, a warship with amphibious vehicles and aircraft on board, will join the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group in the Gulf.
The Pentagon said the deployments of military hardware to the region come in response to “heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations.” The Pentagon stressed that Washington was “ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region” but was not seeking conflict with Iran.
Tehran has described the deployments as “psychological warfare” designed to intimidate the Islamic Republic. Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted senior Iranian cleric Yousef Tabatabai-Nejad as saying that the U.S military fleet could be “destroyed with one missile.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials told Reuters that intelligence showed the Iranians had loaded military equipment and missiles onto small boats controlled by Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The U.S. blacklisted the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization last month.
The officials also noted growing concerns about potential attacks by Iranian proxies, such as Shiite militias in Iraq and Houthi rebels in Yemen.
According  to Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, two Saudi oil tankers were the targets of a “sabotage attack” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. The incident near Fujairah port caused “significant damage” to the vessels.
Al-Falih added that the attacks were intended “to undermine the freedom of maritime navigation, and the security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world.” The UAE said four ships of various nationalities had been hit.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to retaliate against the U.S. deployments by blocking the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of oil that is consumed globally passes.
[Photo: Official U.S. Navy Page / Flickr]