Sideboys render honors to Panetta as he arri
Sideboys render honors to Panetta as he arriReuters

“When the world calls, we have to respond,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told sailors before a second American aircraft carrier headed for the Persian Gulf this week. The urgency of the United States to boost its defenses in the Gulf was indicated by its recalling the sailors early from leave to board the ship for the Middle East, four months ahead of schedule.

The USS John C. Stennis, which can carry 90 warplanes, is heading to the Gulf as Iran continues to challenge the world by advancing its unsupervised nuclear program.

The USS Stennis will join the U.S. Enterprise Strike Group and poses a strong deterrence to any Iranian plans to try to block the Gulf or to attack commercial oil tankers. The Strike Group includes a guided missile cruiser and four guided missile destroyers.

"It's tough," Panetta told sailors before they left port. "We're asking an awful lot of each of you. And frankly, you are the best I have -- and when the world calls, we have to respond."

“Obviously Iran is one of those threats that we have to be able to focus on and make sure that we’re prepared to deal with any threats that could emerge out of Iran,” Panetta told reporters.

The Obama administration, which previously has said that solving the Palestinian Authority demand for independence is the key to peace for the entire Middle East region, has increasingly shown signs that reflect Israel’s warnings that the regime in Tehran is dead set to fulfill its stated intention to annihilate Israel, leaving the United States without a committed democratic ally in the region.

"The very existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to humankind and an affront to all world nations," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech this month. "Confronting Zionists will also pave the way for saving the whole humankind from exploitation, depravity and misery."

The beefed up American naval presence in the Gulf parallels concerns in Israel that sanctions may be hurting the Iranian economy but are not enough to stop Tehran’s drive for nuclear capability.

The American-backed sanctions include numerous loopholes that have enabled countries such as Japan and North Korea to continue importing oil from Iran, which depends on the black gold for most of its foreign exchange earnings.

The U.S. State Dept. continues to push for diplomacy to convince  Ahmadinejad to pressure him to allow full inspection of its nuclear facilities by United Nations inspectors.

“We are focused on combining diplomacy and pressure, trying to get Iran to be serious at the negotiating table and we are in full consultations with the Israelis about the picture that we see, and we will continue to make those points clear,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week.