The United States military said Wednesday it flew a B-52 bomber over the Middle East ‘to deter potential aggression’ amid tensions with Iran – the first such flight under President Joe Biden, and sixth by the US since November.
The show of strength comes just days after Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, rejected demands to alter the 2015 nuclear accord that Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, pulled out of in the early days of his administration.
It also took place just a week after Iran launched a massive military drill along the coast of the Gulf of Oman, the latest in a series of snap exercises amid escalating tensions over Washington’s pressure campaign against Tehran.
Opponents of the nuclear deal have demanded that Biden force Iran to agree to limitations on its missile program and other military capabilities as a precondition to America’s re-entry into the agreement.
Iran has insisted that the new administration lift economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration before it returns to talks with Biden.
The US military on Wednesday released this handout photo showing a B-52 bomber (far right) from the 2nd Bomb Wing of Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana flying with Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s during a mission over the Middle East
This is the first time that American B-52 bombers have flown over the Middle East since President Joe Biden (left) came into office. Earlier this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) demanded that the US lift economic sanctions against Iran before it returns to negotiations over a possible renewal of a 2015 nuclear accord
The B-52 Stratofortress: America’s long-range strategic bomber
A US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress heavy bomber drops bombs in this undated file photo
The United States Air Force currently has 76 B-52 Stratofortress bombers in service today.
Designed and built by the Seattle-based Boeing Company, the B-52 is a long-range strategic bomber that has been used by the Air Force since the 1950s.
It is capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds of weapons while flying at a combat range of more than 8,800 miles without aerial refueling.
This heavy bomber is powered by 8 turbofan engines manufactured by Pratt & Whitney.
Each engine is capable of producing 17,000 pounds of thrust to propel the plane forward in the air.
The B-52 also boasts a wingspan of 185ft. Each aircraft has a length measuring 159ft4in.
The plane stands at a height of 40ft8in.
The aircraft weighs approximately 185,000 pounds. It can take off at a maximum weight of 488,000 pounds.
To fly its long-range bombing missions, it needs fuel – a lot of it.
Each B-52 has a fuel capacity of 312,197 pounds.
The plane is a subsonic aircraft that can reach speeds of 650mph.
It can also fly at a top altitude of 50,000ft.
Source: Boeing Company
The American B-52 nuclear capable bomber flew nonstop from Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base into the region earlier in the day on Wednesday.
The plane went over both the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, according to flight-tracking data.
The US military’s Central Command later published images of the bomber flying alongside Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s.
While not mentioning Iran in its statement, Central Command said the flight was meant to ‘showcase the US commitment to regional security.’
The flights, the third-such operation this year, had become common in the last months of former President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers sparked a series of escalating incidents in the region.
In the waning days of the Trump administration, there were fears of a brewing military confrontation as Iran prepared to mark the one-year anniversary of the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, in Iraq.
In early January, Trump overruled his acting secretary of defense, Christopher Miller, and ordered the return of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to the region.
Miller wanted the Nimitz to return home, overruling the wishes of top Pentagon generals who thought the aircraft carrier should remain deployed in the Middle East as a deterrent to Iran.
Less than a month before he left office, Trump cited ‘chatter’ that Iran might strike.
Days after a December 20 rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad by Iranian-supported Shiite militia groups, Trump tweeted that Iran was on notice.
Last week, Iran’s military kicked off a ground forces drill along the coast of the Gulf of Oman on featuring tanks and paratroopers. Tensions in the region remain high after Iran announced earlier this month that it had resumed enriching uranium to near-weapons grade levels
‘Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over,’ Trump wrote on Dec. 23. He added, ‘We hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq.’
Biden has expressed a desire to return to the deal if Iran honors the deal’s limits on its nuclear program.
Antony Blinken, who was recently confirmed by the United States Senate as the next secretary of state, told lawmakers that he favors a return to the Iran nuclear deal provided that Tehran uphold its end of the bargain.
‘If Iran comes back into compliance we would, too, but we would use that as a platform with our allies and partners who would once again be on the same side with us, to seek a longer and stronger agreement,’ Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 19.
‘Having said that, I think we’re a long way from there.
‘We would have to see once the president-elect is in office what steps Iran actually takes and is prepared to take.’
Zarif this week ruled out any changes to the nuclear accord and said that his government will not accept any demands to alter the terms of the deal.
Iran’s ‘return to the [negotiating] table will be jeopardized if Washington or its EU allies demand new terms for a deal that was already carefully constructed through years of negotiations,’ Zarif wrote in Foreign Affairs.
In the waning days of the Trump administration, the former president, Donald Trump, overruled his acting Pentagon chief and ordered the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (seen above int his 2001 file photo) to stay in the Middle East, raising fears of possible military confrontation
Biden, who took office last Wednesday, ‘can begin by removing all sanctions imposed since Trump assumed office and seek to re-enter and abide by the 2015 nuclear deal without altering its painstakingly negotiated terms,’ Zarif wrote.
‘In turn, Iran would reverse all the remedial measures it has taken in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal,’ he said on Friday, adding that the ‘initiative squarely rests with Washington.’
There are considerable obstacles standing in Biden’s path if he seeks to return to the Iran nuclear accord.
Earlier this month, Iran began enriching uranium to levels unseen since the nuclear deal and also seized a South Korean-flagged tanker near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, a double-barreled challenge to the West that further raised Mideast tensions.
Increasing enrichment at its underground Fordo facility puts Tehran a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent, while also pressuring Biden to quickly negotiate.
There are also serious domestic constraints that have weakened Biden’s hand, including the political strife evidenced by the siege on the United States Capitol on January 6.
The US, like much of the world, is also gripped by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has so far killed more than 400,000 Americans and dealt a blow to its economy.
There is also bi-partisan suspicion of Iran in Washington, DC.
Biden faces pressure both from Democrats and Republican opponents of the Iran deal.
They don’t want the U.S. to throw away the leverage of sanctions until Iran is made to address other items objectionable to Israel, Sunni Arab neighbors, and the United States.
Newly confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken is seen above during a welcome ceremony after arriving at the State Department in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. Blinken has expressed a desire to return to the Iran nuclear deal provided Iran once again adheres to its terms
That includes Iran’s ballistic missiles and substantial and longstanding intervention in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. Biden promises to deal with all that too.
Getting back into the original deal ‘is the floor and not the ceiling’ for the Biden administration on Iran, the person familiar with the incoming administration’s thinking on it said.
‘It doesn’t stop there.’