JEDDAH: Saudi fighter jets escorted a US Air Force strategic bomber in a “show of strength” over key waterways in the Middle East, US military chiefs said on Sunday.
The B-1B Lancer passed over the Arabian Gulf, the Bab Al-Mandeb strait, the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Omanand the Strait of Hormuz. It was also accompanied by military aircraft from Egypt, Bahrain and Israel.
“The bomber task force mission ... was intended to deliver a clear message of reassurance,” said Centcom commander Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US forces in the Middle East. “Military readiness for any contingency or mission, from crisis response to multilateral exercises to one-day presence patrols like this, depends on reliable partnerships.”
The B-1B is a supersonic bomber that can carry the heaviest conventional payload of all the US military’s planes. A US B-52 bomber, also capable of carrying nuclear weapons, flew over the Middle East in January.
Since February, Iran and Israel have engaged in what analysts have called a “shadow war,” in which vessels linked to each nation have come under attack in waters around the Gulf in tit-for-tat exchanges.
The regional patrol, Centcom's fifth such operation this year, comes as talks aimed at reviving the 2015 deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program have stalled. US President Joe Biden has offered to return to the nuclear accord, but his administration has voiced growing frustration over delays after a hard-line government took office in Iran.
Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, and Iran has stepped upnuclear enrichment.