The US military said on Monday it flew a pair of nuclear-capable B-52 long-range bombers over the Middle East in a show of force, the latest such mission in the region amid tensions remain high between Washington and Tehran.
The bombers took off from the Royal Air Force base in Fairford, England, and flew over the Eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea on Sunday as part of training missions with Kuwaiti and Saudi warplanes, before leaving the area.
“Threats against the United States and our partners will not go unaddressed,” Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, the top US Air Force officer in the Middle East, said in a statement. “Missions like this … show our ability to combine forces to deter and, if necessary, defeat our adversaries.”
Although US Army Central Command did not mention Iran, Washington frequently sent B-52 bombers to the region as hostilities simmered between the US and Iran. The last such flyby was in June.
Iran’s regional enemy, Israel, has also joined the multinational mission. Although not recognized by the United States, three Israeli F-16 fighter jets accompanied the American bombers “through the skies of Israel en route to the (Persian) Gulf”, the Israeli military said, describing the the country’s cooperation with the US military as essential to “maintain air security in Israel and the Middle East.”
Central Command was expanded last year to include Israel, a move aimed at encouraging regional cooperation against Iran under former President Donald Trump.
Trump’s decision four years ago to pull the United States out of Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers has sparked a series of escalating incidents in the region.
Even as diplomats now squabble over a possible relaunch of the nuclear deal, Iran’s navy seized two US marine drones in the Red Sea last week.
The capture came just days after the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards towed another marine drone before releasing it as a US warship followed. The US Navy has deployed ultra-endurance aerial surveillance drones to monitor threats in crucial waterways, which have witnessed repeated maritime attacks.
Tensions also remain high after recent clashes between US forces and Iran-backed militias in the region. Last month, Washington carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria targeting areas used by Iranian Revolutionary Guard-backed militias, prompting a response from Iran-backed fighters.
US and Iranian negotiators in Vienna have tried to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which imposed strict limits on Iran’s atomic program in return for relief from international sanctions. Last week, the State Department called Iran’s latest negotiating stance “not constructive.”
Meanwhile, Iran is now enriching uranium up to 60% purity – a level it has never reached before and is a short technical step away from 90%. While Iran has long maintained that its program is peaceful, non-proliferation experts warn that Tehran has enough 60% enriched uranium to reprocess it into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.