Chris McGreal in Washington guardian.co.uk,
Sunday 31 January 2010 19.07 GMT
Tension between the US and Iran heightened dramatically today with the disclosure that Barack Obama is deploying a missile shield to protect American allies in the Gulf from attack by Tehran.
The US is dispatching Patriot defensive missiles to four countries – Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait – and keeping two ships in the Gulf capable of shooting down Iranian missiles. Washington is also helping Saudi Arabia develop a force to protect its oil installations.
American officials said the move is aimed at deterring an attack by Iran and reassuring Gulf states fearful that Tehran might react to sanctions by striking at US allies in the region. Washington is also seeking to discourage Israel from a strike against Iran by demonstrating that the US is prepared to contain any threat.
The deployment comes after Obama's attempts to emphasise diplomacy over confrontation in dealing with Iran – a contrast to the Bush administration's approach – have failed to persuade Tehran to open its nuclear installations to international controls. The White House is now trying to engineer agreement for sanctions focused on Iran's Revolutionary Guard, believed to be in charge of the atomic programme.
Washington has not formally announced the deployment of the Patriots and other anti-missile systems, but by leaking it to American newspapers the administration is evidently seeking to alert Tehran to a hardening of its position.
The administration is deploying two Patriot batteries, capable of shooting down incoming missiles, in each of the four Gulf countries. Kuwait already has an older version of the missile, deployed after Iraq's invasion. Saudi Arabia has long had the missiles, as has Israel.