Was it just an April Fools joke? Yesterday the Associated Press reported that the United States had test-fired a nuclear-capable Trident missile as part of a military drill with Saudi Arabia. The launch may have come in response to Saudi and Gulf Arab concerns over Iran’s evolving nuclear weapons program.
A defense official in Washington confirmed that the missile launch took place late last week and was part of a demonstration. The official also stated that U.S. Missile Defense Agency head Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly was present. The Pentagon has since denied that any missile was fired and states that while O’Reilly was in the region last week, he was not present at any launch.
Regardless of the ‘he said she said’ of it all, the news draws attention to the recent beefing up of defenses around Iran. The recently accelerated initiative, originally launched by the Bush administration, involves nearly the entire Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait…
In a visit to the Kingdom in March, Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed bolstering Saudi air and missile defense capabilities, as well as more speedy weapons sales in the region.
The U.S. hopes to reassure Gulf allies with upgraded Patriot missiles on land and more U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf capable of destroying missiles in flight. While the Patriot missile systems were originally deployed in the region to shoot down aircraft, they have taken on a new role.
This recent effort to bolster security in allied Arab nations in the Gulf has been touted by U.S. officials as strictly defensive. It “is meant to act as a buffer against potential Iranian retaliation to new economic penalties related to its atomic activities and as an answer to growing perceptions that Tehran is the region’s ascendant military power,” according to GSN. The deployments may also serve to discourage Israel from a potential military strike on Iran and deter an expanded nuclear arms race in the region. Saudi Arabia has long warned of the potential for a nuclear arms race in the Gulf region if Iran were to gain a nuclear weapon.
“Iran is clearly seen as a very serious threat by those on the other side of the Gulf front, and indeed, it has been a catalyst for the implementation of the architecture that we envision and have now been trying to implement,” said General Petraeus in January.