Teaming up with Middle East allies Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar, the United States military flew two B-52H bombers over the Persian Gulf Thursday in an act of saber-rattling that American officials characteristically described as an attempt to "deter" potential acts of so-called "aggression" by Iran.
Corporate media outlets dutifully echoed the Pentagon's depiction of the threatening maneuver as defensive, even though it was the U.S. that pushed the two nations to the brink of war repeatedly over the past several years by violating the Iran nuclear accord, assassinating Iran's top general, and imposing crushing sanctions that have hindered Iran's ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bomber flight came just two weeks after the assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist, an attack U.S. officials have said was carried out by Israel. Iran has also blamed the assassination on Israel, with one official saying that "there is no doubt" the U.S. was involved.
"If a journalist... repeats the claim that the U.S., which has been trying to starve a country and has been assassinating their commanders and scientists, is sending a bomber that carries 70,000 pounds of weapons 12,000 miles away to 'deter' that country, they're doing stenography," tweeted writer Arash Karami.
Following Thursday's flight, Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), issued a statement Thursday boasting of the U.S. military's capabilities, warning that "potential adversaries should understand that no nation on earth is more ready and capable of rapidly deploying additional combat power in the face of any aggression."
McKenzie's statement doesn't mention Iran, but anonymous U.S. officials made clear that the bomber flight was directed at the Islamic Republic.
"We're trying to just ensure that if the Iranians do think they have a plan that's executable, that they think twice before executing it, because they do see that we have a robust posture and presence still remaining in the region that could respond to any provocation should it occur," one official told NBC News.
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"The two B-52H 'Stratofortresses' flew from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on a roughly 36-hour mission that took them across Europe, through the northern Red Sea, across Saudi Arabia and into the Persian Gulf for a north to south transit," NBC reported. "Aircraft from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar flew with the U.S. planes during portions of the flight."
In a briefing with reporters ahead of the flight, according to the New York Times, "a senior military official said American intelligence analysts had detected 'planning going on'—including preparations for possible rocket strikes or worse—by Iran and Shia militias in Iraq that it supports." If the official cited any evidence of the alleged "planning," the Times did not print it.
Also citing an anonymous official, Politico reported Thursday that "the U.S. military is on heightened alert and shoring up its forces in the Middle East to respond to a potential Iranian attack." The report did not present evidence that Iran is planning an attack on U.S. forces in the region.
While fears of a full-blown military conflict between the U.S. and Iran have been high since Trump took office and stocked his cabinet with hawks, such concerns have intensified in recent weeks following reports that the president last month requested options to bomb an Iranian nuclear energy site.
The assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh late last month also sparked warnings of a plot to preemptively undermine any attempt by the Biden administration to restore diplomatic relations with Iran.
Ryan Costello, policy director of the National Iranian American Council, said in a statement that the killing of Fakhrizadeh was "yet another reckless step that appears intended to poison the well for negotiations under a Biden administration and set the stage for war."
The bomber flight took place hours after the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate voted down a Democrat-led effort to black the outgoing Trump administration's last-minute sale of F-35s, Reaper drones, and missiles to the United Arab Emirates. American warhawks—including Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton—have claimed the $23 billion arms deal is necessary to confront Iran.
"Weapons sold to the UAE by the United States have regularly been used to massacre civilians in Yemen and Libya, have repeatedly fallen into the hands of violent non-state actors, and have only served to fuel, rather than mitigate, violent conflict," Erica Fein, executive director of Win Without War, said in a statement Wednesday.