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US submarine: Reassuring message, imposing presence

Decision by US to send unmanned, remote-controlled submersibles to Strait of Hormuz has triggered controversy in already tense region

Ahmed Eleiba , Sunday 15 Jul 2012
U.S. Navy photo by John Narewski
U.S. Navy photo by John Narewski
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The decision by the US to deploy a fleet of unmanned, robotic submarine mine clearers to the Strait of Hormuz has raised eyebrows among Middle East strategists.

Major General Adel Suleiman, a military expert, said the operation primarily aims to reassure Gulf states and the world that the US is taking the Iran threat seriously.

Around a fifth of world's oil supplies travel through the strait.

The Sea Fox submersibles, manufactured by German firm Atlas Electronik, come equipped with a TV camera and sonar and are deployed from minesweepers or helicopters. Once in the water they can be controlled via a fibre optic link and are designed to locate mines and destroy them using a shaped charge that was originally designed to destroy tanks.

Suleiman believes another regional war is not an option right now, but the US continues its policy of boosting the Gulf arms trade as these threats increase.

He revealed that on a recent visit to Afghanistan he found robust US-Iranian cooperation in reconstruction projects, and Iranian companies working in coordination with US firms.

Suleiman sees this as a clear sign that portraying an entirely hostile relationship between the two sides is merely political manoeuvring.

Others believe the deployment is to dissuade Israel from taking hostile action against Tehran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme.

According to the US, it is coordinating with regional powers but does not want any party to interfere in the issue. By sending the submarine, which is named to imply military cunning and is a reminder of the first US war on Iraq dubbed Operation Desert Fox, its presence changes the security balance.

Suleiman describes it as a response to Tehran, which had announced its intention to manufacture a submarine. The presence of the submersibles eliminates any threat to the strait.

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