US beefing up forces to counter Iran in Persian Gulf

Washington: The US has begun beefing up its sea- and land-based defences in the Persian Gulf to counter any attempt by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz.

The American forces are also modifying weapons systems on warships so they could be used against Iranian fast-attack boats, as well as shore-launched cruise missiles, the Wall Street Journal reported quoting US defence officials said.

The paper said Pentagon had notified Congress of plans to pre-position new mine-detection and clearing equipment and expand surveillance capabilities in and around the strait, through which 20 per cent of world`s oil supply passes.

The US moves outline the potential shape of a conflict between Iran and the West: Iran could rapidly mine the strait and use heavily armed speedboats to attack or ram Western ships trying to clear the waterway. A successful Iranian attack on a US warship could drag America into a larger conflict.

The `readiness push` is spearheaded by the military`s Central Command, which oversees US forces in the Gulf region, after military planners asked for weapons upgrades after reviews exposed "gaps" in the US defence capabilities.

The US build up comes as New suspicions over Iran`s nuclear ambitions emerged. In a recent report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has increased its stockpile of uranium that is enriched beyond the purity level needed for civilian power reactors, and begun producing it under a mountain of rock and soil that some US and Israeli officials say could be immune from attack.

The US is also concerned that Israel – which believes that Tehran will soon be able to assemble a weapon – may choose to strike Iran by this autumn. American officials worry this could provoke retaliation.