The deployment, first reported late Monday by Israeli television channel Kan 11, coincided with the sighting in the Persian Gulf of the submarine USS Georgia, which is armed with 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles. It is the first time in eight years that an Ohio-class guided-missile submarine was publicly reported to be in the strategic waterway between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran.
On Dec. 9, two U.S. B-52 bombers also headed toward the gulf accompanied by Saudi aircraft in what Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the U.S. Central Command, said was an example of the two countries’ “strong working relationship and shared commitment to regional security and stability.”
“Nothing is coincidental,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv, referring to the recent Israeli, U.S. and Saudi reports of increased military preparations close to Iran. “This is all trying to signal Iran a message: not to respond to the killing of Fakhrizadeh.”
Iran blamed Israel, which has been implicated in several killings of Iranian nuclear scientists, for the November assassination of Fakhrizadeh. Iranian officials have repeatedly vowed to take revenge on Israeli or U.S. targets in the region.
Since November, Israel has kept its embassies on high alert and has increasingly urged caution in recent weeks, ahead of the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad Airport in January.
On Monday, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, chief of the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces, said “the IDF will attack with force, against anyone who is involved, from near or from far, in attacks against Israel or Israeli targets.”
For years Israel has been secretly forging security and intelligence agreements with Arab countries in the gulf on the basis of shared concerns about Iran. With the help of the Trump administration, Israel recently announced agreements to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in addition to separate agreements with Sudan and Morocco. Israeli officials have expressed hope that Saudi Arabia could be next in line.
Recent satellite photos have shown that Iran has begun new construction at its underground Fordo uranium-enrichment plant, near the city of Qom, which is likely to trigger new concern in the remaining weeks of the Trump administration.
A 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers required Iran to sharply curtail its uranium-enrichment program. But after President Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2018, Iran has resumed enrichment activities and stockpiled enriched uranium beyond the limits set in the 2015 agreement.
President-elect Joe Biden is expected to reengage with Iran and try to revive the nuclear deal, which leaves open the question of whether Tehran will respond to the Fakhrizadeh killing.
Guzansky described Israel’s submarine mission and other moves as a kind of psychological warfare to deter Iran.
“We don’t see the whole picture, and we don’t have all the details, but Israel’s interest is to deter its enemy, especially if it doesn’t know exactly where it is going to hit,” he said.