Al-Udeid Air Base, QATAR – On Tuesday, the Pentagon sent a B-52 bomber over the Persian Gulf region, the sixth kind of list since last fall, in a show of deterrence against Iran.
The B-52H Stratofortress, a long-range heavy bomber, flew from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on Tuesday and was expected to make a continuous flight over Jordan, Saudi Arabia and down the eastern Saudi coastline near the United Arab Emirates and Qatar before returning to United States, said a senior military official.
“Our intention is to maintain the enduring defensive posture, to deter any aggression in the region, to promote regional security and to assure our allies,” the senior military official said.
The United States has been on guard for the past few months and has been concerned about the threat posed by Iran, especially in the run-up to the president̵
U.S. officials have blamed Iran-backed militias for repeated rocket attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq last year, such as one last month that caused minor damage to the embassy connection inside Baghdad’s fortified green zone. Washington has condemned regular cross-border missile and drone strikes launched by Iran-oriented Houthi rebels in Yemen against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia.
The United States maintained an aircraft carrier in the region, maintained other military capabilities, and military leaders were on high alert, officials said. It stemmed from agreement between intelligence analysts who eavesdropped on reports that Tehran or its proxy in the region were planning to avenge the death of Major General Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, who was killed by a US drone strike in Iraq in January 2020.
Officials also feared that Tehran could try to take advantage of the chaotic transition of government in Washington, possibly by attacking allies or striking US troops in Iraq.
No attack on U.S. assets came, and the immediate threat from Iran has abated somewhat, senior military officials said, but the Pentagon is still alert.
On Saturday, the Saudi capital Riyadh was attacked with armed drones or missiles for the first time in seven months. The Saudi-led coalition fight in Yemen said it had intercepted the projectiles, but two people familiar with the matter said an important royal complex had suffered minor damage.
While the Biden administration has promised to reassess US relations with Saudi Arabia and end its support for Riyadh’s war effort in Yemen, Washington quickly condemned the attack and reiterated its commitment to the kingdom’s defense.
The coalition blamed the attack on the Houthis, who denied responsibility, and the United States also hinted that they were to blame. A previously unknown group called the “True Promise Brigades”, which claims to be based in Iraq, distributed a statement about Telegram, claiming that it had targeted Yamama Palace and other places in Riyadh in retaliation for alleged Saudi support for Islamic State.
Regardless of who was behind the attack, the incident is a sign that despite several years of maximum pressure from the Trump administration against Iran, Tehran has not significantly withdrawn its support for allied militias in the Middle East.
The Houthis rebel as well as a host of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias – which the United States accuses Iran of supporting itself with weapons, money and education – have continued to threaten and occasionally attack the interests of Washington and its allies.
The recent attack on Riyadh is probably also an attempt by Iran to test how Mr. Biden – who has signaled that he would take a more conciliatory approach to Tehran than Mr Trump – in his early office days responds to threats against US allies in the Gulf, said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Iranian-backed militias with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Residents of Riyadh on Tuesday reported what appeared to be another attack and a defensive response from a Patriot air-interceptor missile system inside the capital’s diplomatic district adjacent to Yamama Palace. Further details of the incident remain unclear without public comment from the Saudi coalition or the Houthis more than 24 hours later.
U.S. military officials declined to comment for Tuesday’s incident.
B-52 flights have become a common practice in the region. The flight was the sixth such maneuver since November – and the third this month – with more planned for this spring, military officials said. Tuesday’s flight was scheduled weeks ago and was not triggered by any particular event, officials said.
The senior official said such flights are intended to deter Iran and reassure allies in the region, thus maintaining security, while the Biden administration decides on a new policy for the country, the official said.
President Biden has expressed a willingness to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, from which President Trump withdrew the United States in May 2018. In addition, Biden White House has not announced any further plans for Iran.
“We know that US policy is evolving with regard to Iran right now and the new government will make some decisions over the next one and I have no particular insight into what those decisions will be,” the senior official said. official. “But if we continue to deter Iranian aggression. it will give decision makers more decision-making power when setting policy. ”
The B-52 dates back to the Early Cold War and is a long-range heavy bomber used by the U.S. military for a variety of missions. It can fly at high subsonic speeds at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet, go 8,800 miles without refueling and carry various forms of precision-controlled order, according to the military.
The B-52 flew as part of a bomber group accompanied by F-15 and F-16 fighters and KC-10 and KC-135 tankers. Some of the planes were flown by Allied flight crews, also from Jordan, officials said.
—Sune Engel Rasmussen contributed to this article.
Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com and Stephen Kalin at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8