Gary Leupp: Iran and U.S. in the Suez Canal

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at:]

On Wednesday the U.S. Navy official website reported: “Enterprise Carrier Strike Group (CSG) transited the Suez Canal and entered the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR), Feb. 15.” This refers to the passage of the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), from the Mediterranean into the Red Sea. It is accompanied by the guided missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf and the USNS Arctic, a combat support ship. Naval strike group commander Rear Admiral Terry Craft says such passage is routine and “demonstrates the ongoing stability of this important waterway.” Are we to suppose that if the U.S. didn’t deploy massive military power in the canal, or if the Egyptians denied access, the waterway would be “unstable”?

The passage is indeed routine. On April 28, 1986 the Enterprise voyaged from the Indian Ocean through the Red Sea and canal into the Mediterranean in order to support “Operation Eldorado Canyon.” In that operation, U.S. aircraft repeatedly entered the airspace over the Gulf of Sidra, which Libya claimed as its territorial waters, challenging Gadafy’s “Line of Defense.” (This was before Gadafy decided to kiss up to the U.S. and other imperialist powers.) They deliberately provoked a confrontation and killed 56 Libyans including Gadafy’s 18 month old daughter.

The USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) was sent to the Red Sea in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991. Aircraft carriers including the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) regularly ply the waters of the Red Sea and pass through the canal, projecting power and “maintaining security.”...

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