The US Central Command said Sunday evening that an Ohio-class submarine has arrived in its area of responsibility, which includes the eastern Mediterranean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Gulf of Oman.
Ohio-class subs are both nuclear-powered and capable of carrying nuclear warheads, although some carry only cruise missiles and are meant to deploy with special operations forces, meaning it was unclear whether the submarine operating in the Mideast carries nuclear ballistic missiles.
While the US announcement was scarce on details, it was accompanied by an image that appeared to show a submarine in Egypt’s Suez Canal.
The arrival of the submarine in the region was apparently part of the same strategy that has seen the Pentagon dispatch two carrier strike groups in order to deter Iran and its proxies — not least the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group — from attacking Israel amid its war against Hamas.
According to CNN, the US Navy has four Ohio-class guided missile submarines, which have been converted to carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
US acknowledgment of an Ohio-class submarine location is relatively rare, as they represent part of America’s so-called “nuclear triad” of atomic weapons — which also includes land-based ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs aboard strategic bombers.
However, in April, the US military announced that it had dispatched an Ohio-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine to the Middle East to “help ensure regional maritime security and stability,” given increasing tensions with Iran.
In addition to releasing the photo of the submarine on Sunday, Central Command separately released an image of a nuclear-capable B-1 bomber also operating in the Mideast.
On November 5, 2023, a U.S. Air Force B-1 Lancer begins aerial refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 912th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron while conducting a Bomber Task Force mission over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. The mission was… pic.twitter.com/HQQn9EECIS
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) November 5, 2023
The announcement of the submarine’s arrival came as a US readout of one of the regular calls between US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday said that the former “reaffirmed the US commitment to deter any state or non-state actor seeking to escalate this conflict.”
Furthermore, the US has reportedly warned both Hezbollah and Iran that it is ready to act militarily against them if they escalate the conflict with Israel. The message has been conveyed to the terror group and the Islamic Republic through their partners in the region, Turkey among them, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
Also on Sunday, US Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns arrived in Israel to discuss the war against Hamas, according to reports.
It was apparently Burns’ first trip to Israel since the outbreak of the war.
Burns was expected to hold meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Mossad head David Barnea, and other defense and intelligence officials, Axios reported.
He will also make stops in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt during the regional tour, which will include a particular focus on efforts to secure the release of the some 240 hostages currently being held in Gaza.
The US spy chief will meet with Mideast counterparts to “discuss issues of mutual concern including the situation in Gaza, support for hostage negotiations, and the US commitment to continuing to deter state and non-state actors from widening the conflict between Israel and Hamas,” an unnamed US official told Axios.
Burns “will reinforce our commitment to intelligence cooperation, especially in areas such as counterterrorism and security,” the official said.
His visit came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Baghdad for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as American forces grappled with a surge of attacks by Iran-backed militias.
According to The New York Times, Blinken used the trip to warn Iran against attacking US troops or interests in the region.
“It was very important to send a very clear message to anyone who might seek to take advantage of the conflict in Gaza to threaten our personnel here or anywhere else in the region: Don’t do it,” Blinken said in brief comments at Baghdad airport.
The newspaper said the visit was “reinforcing a signal to Iran that the United States is prepared to defend its allies in the region against aggression by Iran or its proxies.”
Iraq was the latest stop on Blinken’s crisis tour of the Middle East amid Israel’s war against Hamas, sparked by the Gaza terror group’s deadly assault on southern Israel in which terrorists broke through the border and slaughtered some 1,400 people, most of them civilians. In addition, over 240 people were kidnapped and taken to Gaza, where they are being held hostage.
In response, Israel launched an offensive that it says is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.
However, the growing death toll in the Strip — over 9,000 according to unverified numbers from Hamas which also include members of the terror group — has led to calls for a ceasefire, not least from the Arab world.
The US has said it will back humanitarian pauses, while Israel has rejected any temporary halt to the fight against Hamas that does not include the release of the hostages.