“The mere presence of our forces is the military message to Iran,” says Michael Singh, senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council during the Bush administration. “The fact that we’re conducting these missions, that the US Navy is present in the Gulf – that’s meant to bolster the credibility of the president’s military threats: that the military option is on the table to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”
He notes, “I wouldn’t expect any response beyond that.”
However, as America ramps up the pressure on Iran, through economic sanctions and through its extended military presence in the Gulf, “What you have to look out for is some inadvertent conflict with the Iranians sparked by some kind of incident along the lines of this one,” warns Mr. Singh, now managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Luckily we have a very professional Navy, and it’s something that’s at the front of their minds all the time,” he says, adding the Obama administration “is right to increase our military presence in the Gulf.” He goes on, “It sends a strong message to the Iranians and gives credibility to our threats.”
Still, even as the administration warily weighs the consequences of economic sanctions against Iran versus threats of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, it must grapple with another possibility: that a conflict with Iran could come “not just at a time and place of our choosing,” Singh warns, “but at a time and place not of our choosing.”