U.S. says guided missile submarine has arrived in Middle East, a message of deterrence to adversaries

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(CNN) — In a rare announcement, the U.S. military said a guided missile submarine has arrived in the Middle East, a message of deterrence clearly directed at regional adversaries as the Biden administration tries to avoid a broader conflict amid the Israel-Hamas war.

U.S. Central Command said on social media Sunday that an Ohio-class submarine was entering its area of responsibility. A picture posted with the announcement appeared to show the sub in the Suez Canal northeast of Cairo.

The military rarely announces the movements or operations of its fleet of ballistic and guided missile subs. Instead, the nuclear-powered vessels operate in near-complete secrecy as part of the US nuclear triad, along with intercontinental ballistic missile silos and strategic bombers.

The announcement is a clear message of deterrence directed at Iran and its proxies in the region. The sub, which is not named, joins a number of other U.S. Navy assets already in area, including two carrier strike groups and an amphibious ready group.

In October 2022, the U.S. made public a ballistic missile submarine in the Middle East, when the commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, boarded the USS West Virginia. Kurilla’s visit occurred at an “undisclosed location at sea in international waters,” Central Command said at the time.

U.S. leader holds series of meetings

The announcement of a guided missile sub in the region comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been holding a series of meetings with U.S. partners in the Middle East. In a whirlwind trip, Blinken has visited Turkey, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Cyprus.

On Sunday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant. In addition to emphasizing the need to protect civilians and provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza, Austin said the U.S. was committed to deterring “any state or non-state actor seeking to escalate this conflict,” a clear reference to Iran and Hezbollah, the Iran-backed armed group.

There have been frequent low-level attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed groups, but the U.S. has been aiming to make it clear that wider attacks would provoke a major response.

Austin said this month that the additional forces in the area were meant to “bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for US forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel.”

“We will do everything and take all necessary measures to protect U.S. forces and our interests overseas,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said Oct. 23. “Again, no one wants to see a widening conflict, and that is our primary goal, but we will also never hesitate to protect our forces.”