According to NBC News, the U.S. is planning an expansion of our naval forces in the Persian Gulf, possibly as early as January. The build-up will include another carrier group, which would add about a dozen vessels (and up to 90 combat aircraft) to our military forces in the region.
In justifyng the build-up, military officials cited Iran's continued interference in Iraq, recent naval exercises in the gulf, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. If I had to guess, I'd say the two latter events are the primary reasons for the projected deployments. Naval power can't do a lot to halt the overland transit of terrorists and IEDs from Iran to Iraq, although the additional airpower would be helpful in supporting an expansion of our ground forces--and their operations.
The addition of a second carrier will certainly get Iran's attention, though it's impossible to predict exactly how Tehran will react. In the past, such deployments have been greeted mostly with propaganda blasts, although other, calculated events (such as missile and rocket tests) cannot be ruled out. And despite recent boasts about "new" weapons and improved naval capabilities, it's doutbful that Iran would directly challenge our forces. The Iranians would lose that engagement swiftly and decisively, and on the heels of this week's election results, the Ahmadinejad regime can't afford another major embarassment.
But there's a danger in assigning too much rationality to the Tehran government. Amid U.S. troubles in Iraq and Hizballah's recent "victory" over Israel in Lebanon, Mr. Ahmadinejad is certainly feeling his oats, and under the right circumstances, might decide to press his luck with the 5th Fleet. By sending another carrier to the gulf, the Bush Administration is obviously trying to send a signal to Iran, but the question is: will Ahmadinejad get the "right" message?