A hurried decision not to de-commission the USS Ponce helicopter marine carrier after duty in Libya – but to refit it for deployment by May in the Persian Gulf as a floating base for commando teams – was confirmed by the US Pentagon and Navy Sunday, Dec. 29.
This transportable floating base will expand the commandos’ range in coastal areas and support counter-measure against mines which Iran has threatened to plant in the Strait of Hormuz in reprisal for the US-EU oil embargo. The SEALs will also take on Iran’s menacing fleet of military speedboats.
Debkafile reports Tehran operates four different kinds of these craft in the Persian Gulf:
1. Small, fast vessels, each armed with a small missile for striking tankers and coastal oil targets around the Gulf region, such as export terminals. Earlier this month, Tehran claimed to have developed stealth cruise missiles capable of disabling aircraft carriers with a single shot.
2. Small, extra-fast boats armed with torpedoes. Iranian publications claim several such boats are capable of stealing up on US aircraft carriers and large warships from several directions without being detected and cause serious damage.
3. Floating bombs for kamikaze missions. These fast boats cannot be deflected after locking in on target, whether on sea or shore, and explode on contact.
Iran used these floating missiles piloted by suicide squads to attack oil tankers in the Gulf in November 1987. Since then, their naval tacticians have upgraded this fleet with the technology gained from the British Bladerunner 51, a model of which Iran purchased some years ago.
Since early January, the Pentagon has reported four cases of harassment by Iranian military boats sailing close to American warships in the Persian Gulf.
4. Boats carrying teams of Iranian marine frogmen trained for secret suicide underwater missions: One member of the boat’s three-man crew dives close to the targeted ship and attaches a magnetic bomb to its hull. (more below)
Iran has scattered hundreds of speedboats of different types around uninhabited islands off the Iranian mainland, tucking them out of sight in well-hidden inlets and bays. The US commando teams based on the Ponce platform will have the task of ferreting out and destroying this fleet.
The US Defense Department aims to get the Ponce ready for its new mission as a floating commando base with all possible speed. To save time, the US military published one no-bid contract for the engineering work, waiving normal procurement rules on the grounds that any delay presented a “national security risk.”
The contract carries pointers to the timeline expected in Washington for a military confrontation to erupt between the United States and Iran, as well as the form it may take, say debkafile’s military sources.
The target date for deploying the commando platform in the Persian Gulf in four or five months indicates Washington is preparing for military clashes to blow up with Iran in the late spring or early summer.
But according to debkafile’s Iranian and military sources, the Iranian administration has expressed its determination to respond instantly to any diplomatic or military move or action of an offensive nature against the Islamic Republic. And so confrontation may come earlier than anticipated.
Sunday, the Iranian parliament was due to vote on a motion to cut off oil supplies to Europe in response to the EU embargo declared last week. Tehran has made it clear it has no intention of standing idle until US and European oil sanctions go fully into effect on July 1 and knows that EU nations are not set up to forego 400,000 barrels of oil a day right now.
Saudi Arabia, which pledged to make up the shortfall arising from oil sanctions against Iran, will not have the missing quantities on stream before May – at about the same time as the Ponce and its complement of SEAL commandoes are due to take up position in the Persian Gulf. Tehran may decide not to wait and opt for letting its speedboats loose before then to try and pre-empt American and European plans.