• AP, AFP-JIJI

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An American nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine traversed the strategically vital waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula on Monday, the U.S. Navy said, in a rare announcement that comes amid rising tensions with Iran.

The Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia, accompanied by two other warships, passed through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passageway through which a fifth of the world’s oil supplies travel.

The unusual transit in the Persian Gulf’s shallow waters, aimed at underscoring American military might in the region, follows the killing last month of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist named by the West as the leader of the Islamic Republic’s disbanded military nuclear program.

It also comes some two weeks before the anniversary of the American drone strike near Baghdad airport in Iraq that killed top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. Iran has promised to seek revenge for both killings.

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine’s presence in Mideast waterways signals the U.S. Navy’s “commitment to regional partners and maritime security with a full spectrum of capabilities,” the Navy said, demonstrating its readiness “to defend against any threat at any time.”

The head of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Gen. Frank McKenzie, told journalists Sunday that Washington was “prepared to react” if Iran attacks them.

The USS Georgia is armed with 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles and can host up to 66 special operations forces, the Navy added. The force does not usually disclose the presence of its submersibles around the world.

On Dec. 10, the U.S. military flew two B-52 bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, over the Gulf region in a mission officials described as a message of deterrence to Iran, and the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz crossed the Gulf waters at the end of November.

The displays of military might are meant to signal the United States’ continuing commitment to the Middle East even as President Donald Trump’s administration withdraws thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. The 5th Fleet covers an area of 6.5 million square kilometers (2.5 million square miles), running through the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.

A rocket salvo Sunday targeted the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, causing damage but no casualties.

The attack was the third against U.S. military and diplomatic facilities since an October truce with pro-Iran Iraqi factions ended a year-long series of attacks on foreign facilities across Iraq.

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