US Central Command Deploys Nuclear Submarine In Suez Canal: Deterrence Or Escalation With Iran?

On November 5th the US Central Command (USCENTCOM) announced that a nuclear submarine would be deployed in the CENTCOM area of competence. This show of force by the USA is only one of the most recent steps in the escalation of the ongoing conflict in Gaza at the international level – a further alarming signal of mounting tensions between the USA and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which we shall observe attentively and not without serious concerns.

Judging from pictures published recently, the location of the nuclear submarine is near the Suez Canal Bridge. This means it can attack parts of Iran, the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen (which is home to Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who have launched missiles toward Israel). On November 5th, one day earlier, Iran’s Minister of Defence in Dubai warned Washington that it would be “hit hard” if a ceasefire isn’t implemented in Gaza, according to Reuters. Washington’s response the following day may have been reaction to these warnings. Other international actors, apart from Israel (who keeps welcoming American military aid, according to the Daily Mail), have so far remained silent on this issue: this includes the UN, the EU, China, and also Iran.

The theory of deterrence is today well-known to scholars and governments. Deterrence is often applied when nuclear powers confront each other and aim to discourage warfare by pointing out the apocalyptic consequences of nuclear exchanges: Nuclear arsenals, therefore, are arguably necessary to maintain a relatively peaceful status quo. However, as tensions continue to flare, Washington is confronted with a pressing question: who will benefit from this interminable sabre-rattling? Certain individuals are already clamouring for the use of their nation’s nuclear arsenal: Amichai Eliyahu, Israel’s former Minister of Heritage, even suggested that Jerusalem could deploy a nuclear strike in Gaza, as noted in Le Monde. Isolated and reckless individuals notwithstanding, many fear that Washington’s deterrence strategy against Iran will have a detrimental impact on how events unfold in Gaza and the wider region, as well as on prospects of a comprehensive peace agreement between all countries involved in the conflict.

The 2015 JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), also known as the “Iranian nuclear deal”, was meant to contain the development of Iran’s nuclear program and to lower tensions between Persia and the West. However, the Trump administration withdrew from the agreement, which renewed hostilities between Tehran and Washington. Furthermore, something that is not often stated is that while the development of a military nuclear program by Iran has encountered many obstacles, and it is not clear what this country has or has not achieved in this area today, Israel developed a clandestine nuclear program throughout the second half of the 20th century, undisturbed by Western countries. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel possesses at least 90 nuclear bombs (as reported by the Japan Times, November 6th, 2023), and an email leaked from the personal account of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2016 alleged that Israel had 200 warheads, “all targeted on Tehran”.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves some serious questions about Washington’s deterrence strategy. Rather than focusing on a ceasefire in the Gaza strip, the Biden administration is focused on power games with Iran at the expense of regional security and, above all else, at the expense of tens of thousands of civilians.  In conclusion, what appears to be deterrence policy is in fact a catalyst for further instability. To avoid the worst-case scenario, it is up to the international community to call for immediate and radical change.