America is rushing to bolster the defences of Iran's Arab neighbours amid fears of the possibility of a missile strike by Tehran.
The United States was reported last night to have increased patrols by its warships in the Gulf and to be rapidly escalating the deployment of Patriot anti-missile batteries in Gulf states that fear an attack from Iran.
There is particular concern over the threat to oil installations. Iran has hinted at its capacity to disrupt the passage of tankers in the Gulf, a threat with the potential to disrupt the world oil market.
News of the initiatives, which include an increase in the number of "special" naval patrol vessels off Iran's coast, comes as Washington and its Western allies have virtually given up on President Barack Obama's efforts to persuade Iran to pursue meaningful negotiation over its nuclear programme.
The decision by US officials to provide details of links with Arab allies in briefings to the 'New York Times' and 'Washington Post' indicated that the administration was set to embark on a serious effort to win another round of United Nations sanctions against Tehran. Those measures are likely to focus on travel bans, overseas banking and the Revolutionary Guards force that controls Iran's secretive weapons programme.
Us Secretary of State Hillary Clinton consulted allies in London last week and said that the evident failure of attempts to engage Iran meant Washington would now push for further sanctions.
In what appeared to be a co-ordinated strategy to increase pressure on Iran, Baroness Ashton, the European Union's new foreign affairs chief, said that she was disappointed with Tehran's failure to engage in talks and that the next step should be referral to the UN Security Council. A US military official said the adjustments in the Gulf should be seen as defensive measures designed to deter Iran from aggression, rather than as a signal that Washington expected Iran to retaliate for any additional sanctions.
Improved defence capability in Arab states could also reassure Israel that it was not a lone regional defender against Iran, and reduce the chances of it launching a pre-emptive strike against Iranian installations.
General David Petraeus, the commander of US military operations in the Middle East, said recently that four Arab states had upgraded Patriot missile systems. Officials, asking not to be named, said those countries were Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
"Iran is clearly seen as a very serious threat by those on the other side of the Gulf front," said General Petraeus. He added that US Aegis cruisers equipped with advanced radar and systems configured to intercept medium-range missiles "are in the Gulf at all times now".
The moves are part of a broader adjustment in the US approach to missile defence and build on commitments made by George W Bush. They include support for tripling a 10,000-strong Saudi security force to protect ports and oil terminals. (© Daily Telegraph, London)