WASHINGTON — Tensions are again rising in the Persian Gulf over Iran’s nuclear program as the U.S. moves additional ships and warplanes to the region as negotiations that could avert a possible military confrontation remain stalled. The threat of an Israeli strike on Iran appears to be growing as Tehran continues to ignore U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to stop enriching uranium.
The United States is moving significant military firepower to the Persian Gulf and is increasing the number of fighter planes that could strike deep into Iran if the country moves to build a nuclear bomb.
Analysts say the time is fast approaching when Israeli leaders must decide whether to launch strikes against Iran, a move that could explode the already fragile Middle East.
“The clock is certainly ticking faster because the diplomacy clock, unfortunately, is ticking very slowly,” said Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The U.S. and 25 nations will hold the largest minesweeping exercise in history later this month in the Gulf where Iran is threating to block the Strait of Hormuz, the corridor for a fifth of the world’s oil.
Tehran is planning to hold its own war games as a clear warning against an attack.
The country’s supreme leader says its nuclear aims are peaceful and that Iran will not build a bomb.
All the while the International Atomic Energy Agency says centrifuges are being added at an underground site as U.N. inspectors are blocked from a military base where weapons-related research may have occurred.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano is frustrated. “We need to stop going around in circles discussing process,” Amano said.
Sanctions on Iran’s oil industry are beginning to cripple the economy, and the value of its currency is plummeting.
The Obama administration says this leaves time for more diplomacy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disagrees.
“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” he said.
The debate over Iran has burst into the combative U.S. presidential campaign.
Challenger Mitt Romney has denounced President Obama’s Iran policy, while the White House is sensitive to criticism involving Israel.
“There is no daylight between the United States and Israel when it comes to what we perceive to be happening in Iran with regards to its program or when it comes to the commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” said White House spokesma Jay Carney.
With sanctions on Iran leading to spiraling inflation, Washington is hoping the pressure will force Tehran to compromise.
“In that situation they may be more tempted to go back and look at the nuclear program to ask if maybe that is where we can make our compromises rather than having to take really tough measures on the economic front,” said analyst Patrick Clawson.
Iran is expected to be a major topic of debate when the U.N. General Assembly convenes later this month.