US, Russian French and British air and naval forces streamed to the Syrian and Iranian coasts over the weekend on guard for fresh developments at the two Middle East flashpoints.
The Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov anchored earlier than planned at Syria's Tartus port on the Mediterranean Sunday, Jan. 8, arriving together with the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and frigate Yaroslav Mudry.
To counter this movement, France consigned an air defense destroyer Forbin to the waters off Tartus.
debkafile's military sources report a buildup in the last 48 hours of western naval forces opposite Iran in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea in readiness for Tehran to carry out its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.
Britain has dispatched the HMS Daring, a Type 45 destroyer armed with new technology for shooting down missiles, to the Sea of Oman, due to arrive at the same time as the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.
Our sources report too that Saturday, the giant RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV, took off from the USS Stenning aircraft carrier for surveillance over the coasts of Iran. The Stennis and its strike group are cruising in the Sea of Oman at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz after Tehran announced it would not be allowed to cross through.
This was the first time the US has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles over Iran since its RQ-170 stealth drone was shot down by Iran on Dec. 4. It was also the first time the huge drone was ordered to take off from an aircraft carrier for a Broad Aerial Maritime Surveillance Mission (BAMS).
Also reported today:
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran has begun uranium enrichment at a new underground site built to withstand possible airstrikes, a leading hard-line newspaper reported Sunday in another show of defiance against Western pressure to rein in Tehran's nuclear program.
The operations at the bunker-like facility south of Tehran, reported by the Kayhan daily newspaper, are small in comparison to Iran's main enrichment site. But the centrifuges at the underground labs are considered more efficient and are shielded from aerial surveillance and protected against airstrikes by up to 300 feet (90 meters) of mountain rock.
Uranium enrichment is at the core of the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies fear Iran could use its enrichment facilities to develop high-grade nuclear material for warheads.
Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned in a number of interviews to US media that once the Fordo plant becomes operational, Iran's nuclear bomb program will become immune to military attack and be able to operate out of the sight of Israeli and Western surveillance.
Tehran has clearly not been deterred in its drive for a nuclear weapon by the stiff sanctions the US and European Union began imposing in the past week against Iran's oil exports and its central bank.
The announcement Sunday confirmed the report from diplomats in the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran had begun feeding uranium gas into the underground centrifuges in late December ready for upgraded enrichment. "I would assume they could start if they wanted to," said one official.
Also reported is Iran has imposed a death sentence on a person whom they say is a US spy that worked for the CIA.