The guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay left San Diego early Saturday headed for the Persian Gulf with a battle group led by the Bremerton, Washington-based aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.
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The Stennis group, including the Mobile Bay, returned from its latest deployment in February. But its heading out again four months earlier than first planned because of a growing sense that Israel may strike at Iran to disrupt its nuclear program.
Earlier this year, when the Stennis began its voyage home by transiting the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, through which passes about 40 percent of the world's oil exports, Iranians warned the carrier not to come back. That move has reflected on the growing tension between the United States and Iran over its efforts to develop a nuclear program, and economic sanctions imposed by the West.
The Christian Science Monitor reported on Friday that Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Israeli government officials that a unilateral strike would only slow Iran's nuclear program, not destroy it.
The International Atomic Energy Agency recently reported that Iran had doubled its number of centrifuges for enriching uranium, despite sanctions and diplomatic appeals.
The Stennis group deployment is part of plan to keep two carriers in the Persian Gulf.
The Norfolk, Virginia-based carriers Enterprise and Eisenhower are in the region now.
The heavily armed, 567-foot Mobile Bay, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, is named for the 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay. Commissioned in 1987, its array of weaponry is designed for repelling threats at sea, in the air, on land and under water.
The USS Mobile Bay is scheduled to be deployed for eight months.
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