Commentary Magazine


The Navy Gets Serious About Gulf Action

Looks like the U.S. Navy is getting serious about a potential war with Iran. Witness the news that four Avenger-class minesweepers are being sent to Bahrain from the U.S., doubling the number of American minesweepers in the Persian Gulf. More minesweeping MH-53E helicopters are also being sent.

This is a significant deployment given how few of each the Navy has—there are only 14 Avenger-class minesweepers in the entire fleet and only about 20 helicopters outfitted for mine sweeping. This is less dramatic than moving an aircraft carrier but potentially more effective because of Iran’s repeated threats to close the Strait of Hormuz in the event of any crisis—something the Iranians will no doubt attempt to do primarily with mines augmented by small attack boats and missiles. Enhancing our ability to respond to that threat should help deter Iran from any precipitous action.

And with time running out to stop the Iranian nuclear program, the odds of an Israeli strike are going up. From a political viewpoint Israel has an incentive to attack before the November presidential election on the assumption that President Obama will have to be more supportive of Israel before an election than after it—the Republican nominee would certainly pounce on the president were he to offer anything but unqualified backing to our closest ally in the region.

It’s a good thing the Navy is getting ready to deal with the possible consequences of an Israeli air raid, although the very fact that there are so few minesweepers available should alert us to the alarming decline in the size of the fleet and the need to build up our naval capacity—rather than continue to degrade it as we are currently going to do because of wider defense cuts.