Indications from the Persian Gulf region point towards a growing likelihood of Iranian action as the one-year anniversary of Qassem Soleimani’s assassination approaches. Tension between the US and Iran have been on the rise in recent weeks, as we have discussed recently. Over the last few days, however, signs of Iranian military preparations have become known. Air defenses, naval units, and security forces inside of Iran have increased their alert levels. The air defense revisions, curiously enough, include more combat air patrols over Natanz and other nuclear facilities in central Iran. Add to that the recent reports from the intelligence community advancing the theory that construction at the Natanz facility is presently ramping up.
In short, Iranian action is expected on or around 3 January. If it materializes, the United States has stated a military response will be forthcoming. Some critics of the US have wasted little time in branding potential military action against Iran a last gasp by the Trump administration. Others have warned that the administration is determined to leave US-Iran relations severely damaged so the incoming Biden administration will be unable to resurrect US involvement in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCOPA).
On Wednesday US B-52 bombers undertook another show-of-force mission in the region. For the third time since late November, B-52s have flown within 50-70 miles of Iranian airspace. The latest mission was a 36-hour sortie that saw the -52s take off from Minot AFB in North Dakota, fly to the Persian Gulf region and then return home. The purpose of these missions is to showcase US airpower to both allies and adversaries. In this instance, there are assuredly many men watching carefully from Tehran.