Nearly 6 months after returning home to the west coast, the U.S. Navy’s John C. Stennis aircraft carrier will leave Washington state today and return to the Persian Gulf as tensions between Iran and Israel continue to mount, and Syria falls deeper into the abyss.
The deployment, which comes 4 months ahead of schedule for the nuclear powered carrier and its crew “deals with a lot of threats in the Middle East right now”, including Syria and Iran, said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week when he spoke to the nearly 2,000 sailors who will depart on Monday. “All of that is the reason we maintain the force we have in the Middle East.”
Back in January, The Stennis made headlines when Iran issued a threat, warning the ship not to return to the Persian Gulf following its departure through the Strait of Hormuz in late December.
“We usually don’t repeat our warning, and we warn only once,” said Iran’s Army chief Ataollah Salehi, according to the state-run Fars news agency. “We recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf.”
Days after issuing the threat, crew members from the John C. Stennis strike group saved 13 Iranian fishermen at sea after they had been kidnapped by Somali pirates.
When the USS John C. Stennis reaches the Persian Gulf, which is scheduled to be in one month’s time, they will join the USS Enterprise Strike Group, giving the United States military a significant presence in the region amid concerns of a conflict between Israel and Iran, which could provoke Iranian responses that would attempt to disrupt commercial shipping lanes in the area.
On the Syrian front, western leaders, including France’s defense minister late last week, have stepped up their calls for a closure of Syria’s airspace while the country slides deeper into civil war by the day.
“It’s tough,” Panetta said to the sailors who will depart today from the west coast. “We’re asking an awful lot of each of you. And frankly, you are the best I have — and when the world calls, we have to respond.”