by Zero Hedge Thu, 12/10/2020 – 09:25

The Pentagon ordered two B-52 bombers to conduct a 36-hour ‘show-of-force’ mission in the Persian Gulf on Thursday, which military officials told the New York Times was intended to “deter Iran and its proxies from carrying out attacks against United States troops in the Middle East” amid rising tensions.

The massive warplanes embarked on the 36-hour trip from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana – and is unusual in that it’s the the second such long-range flight by Air Force bombers near Iranian air space within a month. The US periodically conducts ‘show-of-force’ flights to the Middle East and Asia.

The multinational mission, which included aircraft from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, was routed well outside Iranian air space. The American warplanes were in the broader gulf region for about two hours before returning home, officials said. Two other B-52s from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota conducted the same type of long-range mission in the area on Nov. 21.

The flight on Thursday comes on the heels of the assassination last month of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, an attack Iran has blamed on Israel with possible American complicity. The bomber missions also come just weeks before the anniversary of the American drone strike in January that killed a senior Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, in Iraq.

Iran has vowed to avenge both deaths. –New York Times

Potential adversaries should understand that no nation on earth is more ready and capable of rapidly deploying additional combat power in the face of any aggression,” said Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the US military’s Central Command, in a Thursday statement, adding “The ability to fly strategic bombers halfway across the world in a nonstop mission, and to rapidly integrate them with multiple regional partners, demonstrates our close working relationships and our shared commitment to regional security and stability.”

The Times also claims that President Trump was dissuaded from bombing Iran’s primary nuclear site in the coming weeks – an escalation which the Biden administration, should Trump’s bids at the Supreme Court fail to overturn the results of the election – would need to unwind carefully to avoid appearing friendly to the Islamic Republic. Iran, meanwhile, may not know what to make of the Trump administration’s intentions.

A senior military official told a small group of reporters before Thursday’s flyover that US intelligence analysts had detected a “planned going on,” which may have included preparations for possible rocket strikes or worse – by Iran and the Shia militias in Iraq that it supports.

Another senior military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said there was no evidence of a larger, imminent attack against US military personnel despite mounting tensions in the region.

Over the past year, Iranian-aligned proxies in Iraq have conducted more than 50 rocket attacks on bases where United States troops are housed, as well as on the American Embassy in Baghdad, and launched 90 attacks on convoys carrying supplies to American troops, according to the Pentagon. -NYT

“In short, Iran is using Iraq as its proxy battleground against the United States, with Iran’s ultimate objective being to eject the United States and our forces from Iraq and the broader Middle East,” General McKenzie said during a November virtual conference on the Middle East. The Times also notes that Iran’s control over the Shia militias in Iraq may have weakened since President Trump ordered the assassination of General Suleimani, who led the elite Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Before the daytime assassination of top Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh late last month, believed to have been conducted by Israeli forces, Iran appeared to be laying low in order to ‘wait out’ the Trump administration. Now, military experts worry that the assassination may change the calculus in Iran.

“The Iranians are going to be in a position where they have to retaliate,” Adm. William H. McRaven, the former commander of the military’s Special Operations Command, told ABC “This Week” two days after the strike. “They’re going to have to save face. And so now the issue becomes, what does that retaliation look like?”

“The Iranians don’t want to go to war with us,” McRaven continued. “We don’t want to go to war with Iran. So everybody needs to do the best they can to kind of lower the temperature and try not to get this into an escalation mode.”