US B-1B bombers fly over the Middle East amid Iran’s tensions

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The US Air Force said on Sunday that it was flying a B-1B strategic bomber over key maritime chokepoints in the Middle East with allies, including Israel, amid ongoing tensions with Iran as its nuclear deal with world powers still broken.

The B-1B Lancer bomber flew over the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, through which 20% of all traded oil passes. It also flew over the Red Sea, its narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait and Egypt’s Suez Canal.

The Strait of Hormuz has been the scene of shipping attacks blamed on Iran in recent years, while the Red Sea has seen similar attacks in the midst of an ongoing shadow war between Tehran and Israel. The Islamic Republic has refused to be involved in the attacks, even though they have promised to take revenge on Israel for a series of attacks targeting its nuclear program.

Fighter jets from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia flew alongside the bomber.

Iranian state media did not immediately recognize the overflight. Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The overflight comes after a pattern of such flights of nuclear-compatible B-52 bombers since the Trump administration as a show of force to Iran. In 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to drastically limit its uranium enrichment in return for lifting economic sanctions.

In the time since, Iran has abandoned all the borders of the agreement and drastically reduced the ability of international inspectors to keep an eye on their program. While Iran insists its program is peaceful, US intelligence, Western inspectors and others say Tehran had a structured military nuclear program until the end of 2003.

President Joe Biden has said he is willing to re-enter the nuclear deal, but negotiations in Vienna have stalled when a harsh protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took over as president.

Biden, who sends a B1-B bomber into the region, allows him to send “a clear message of reassurance” to regional allies, as the US Air Force Central Command said on Twitter. But it did not involve a bomber with nuclear weapons.

The B-1B came from the 37th Bomb Squadron based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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