The US military announced Saturday that it had dispatched a nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine to the Middle East to “help ensure regional maritime security and stability” amid increasing tensions with Iran.
In a rare move, the Pentagon released a picture of the USS Florida, an Ohio-class submarine, as it transited the Suez Canal on its way to the Persian Gulf. The US usually does not disclose the locations of its submarines while they are at sea.
“It is capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles and is deployed to US 5th Fleet to help ensure regional maritime security and stability,” fleet spokesperson Commander Timothy Hawkins said in a statement.
Hawkins said the submarine entered the region Thursday and began crossing the canal on Friday.
The show of force comes amid heightened tensions with Iran, which continues to harass shipping and attack oil tankers in the area, including several owned by Israelis.
Iran has also stepped up attacks by its proxies on US forces in the region.
Last month, a US contractor was killed and five US service members and one other US contractor were wounded when a drone struck a facility on a coalition base in northeast Syria.
In a statement, the Defense Department said the intelligence community had determined the unmanned aerial vehicle was of Iranian origin.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said US Central Command forces retaliated with “precision airstrikes” against facilities in eastern Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Wall Street Journal quoted US officials as saying that they had intelligence that Iran was planning further attacks across the region in the near term.
The 5th Fleet patrols the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all oil transits. Its region includes the Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen and the Red Sea stretching up to the Suez Canal, the Egyptian waterway linking the Mideast to the Mediterranean Sea.
Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from ships or submarines can hit targets up to 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles away).
The move also comes with heightened tensions between Israel and Iran amid a general spike in violence in Israel, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel has allegedly launched a series of airstrikes in Syria in recent weeks, including a strike Tuesday that killed two Iranian military advisers, prompting vows of revenge from Tehran.
“We will avenge the blood of martyrs Milad Heydari and Meqdad Meqdani,” IRGC spokesman Ramazan Sharif vowed, as thousands gathered in central Tehran to mourn them, chanting “down with Israel.”
As a general rule, Israel’s military does not comment on specific strikes in Syria, but it has acknowledged conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country over the last decade.
The IDF says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Hezbollah. Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.
Iran, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, claims it only deploys military advisers in the conflict-ravaged country.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanani, accused Israel of bringing “war and insecurity” to the Middle East and of “creating discord in the region.”
Tuesday morning’s strike came a day after the Israeli Air Force said a drone downed in Israeli airspace was suspected to be Iranian.
The escalation of attacks comes after what appears to be a rare bombing in Megiddo by an armed man who infiltrated from Lebanon into Israel.
While many details of the investigation into the Megiddo bombing are barred from publication, the Haaretz news site cited speculation that the series of airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria could indicate that the IRGC was involved in the latest security incidents.