DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United States military said Monday it flew a pair of nuclear-capable B-52 long-distance bombers over the Middle East in a show of force, the latest such mission in the region as tensions remain high between Washington and Tehran.
The bombers took off from the Royal Air Force base at Fairford, England, and flew over the eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea on Sunday in training missions together with Kuwaiti and Saudi warplanes, before departing the region.
“Threats to the U.S. and our partners will not go unanswered.,” Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, the top U.S. Air Force officer in the Middle East said in a statement. “Missions like this … showcase our ability to combine forces to deter and, if necessary, defeat our adversaries.”
Although the U.S. military’s Central Command did not mention Iran in its statement, Washington has frequently dispatched B-52 bombers to the region as hostilities simmered between the U.S. and Iran. The last such flyover was in June.
Former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers sparked a series of escalating incidents in the region.
Even as diplomats wrangle over a possible revival of the nuclear accord, Iran’s navy seized two American sea drones in the Red Sea last week.
That capture came just days after the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard towed another sea drone before releasing it as an American warship trailed it. The U.S. Navy has been deploying ultra-endurance aerial surveillance drones to monitor threats in the crucial waterways, which have seen a series of maritime attacks.
Tensions also remain high after recent confrontations between U.S. forces and Iranian-backed militias in the region. Washington last month carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria that targeted areas used by militias backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, prompting a response from Iranian-backed fighters.
U.S. and Iranian negotiators in Vienna have been attempting to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which imposed sharp limits on Iran’s atomic program in exchange for international sanctions relief. Last week, the State Department described Iran’s latest negotiating position as “not constructive.”
Meanwhile, Iran now enriches uranium up to 60% purity — a level it never reached before that is a short, technical step away from 90%. While Iran long has maintained its program is peaceful, nonprofileration experts warn Tehran has enough 60%-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.