The United States is moving battleships close to the Iranian shore, signaling unprecedented escalation in the Persian Gulf security situation following the killing of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadhe on Friday.

The Nimitz carrier strike group is moving closer to Iran, and will start operations in the region, CNN reported citing an anonymous Pentagon official. The strike group is led by the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and is joined by guided-missile destroyers.

The official line is that the US fleet is in the region to assist US troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan and that the congregation of battleships is not related to the new security situation arising out of the assassination of the Iranian scientist.

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
The database also includes information on US Navy vessels such as USS Dwight D Eisenhower and Nimitz class aircraft carriers Wikimedia Commons

Second Blow for Iran

The report says the carrier group's schedule was decided before the killing of Fakhrizadhe in a northern Iranian town in an apparent gun and bomb attack. However, the officials cited in the report say the troop deployment would act as an "increased deterrence message" to Iran, which has pledged severe response to the perpetrators of the attack inside the country.

Iran has clearly put Israel, and by extension the US, in the dock for the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadhe, the architect of Iran's military nuclear programme. This is the second major for blow for Iran this year, following the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the most senior commander of the Quds Forces, in a US air strike in Baghdad.

"Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators," Iran's foreign minister Zarid said.

Fakhrizadeh was in Israel's Crosshairs

Israel and the US did not comment on the Iranian claims, the Time magazine reported. However, media reports quickly pointed out that Fakhrizadhe has long been in the crosshairs of Israel.

Two years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had made a sinister reference to his name. "Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh," Netanyahu had said at one news conference. Israel has a history of carrying out targeted killings of nuclear scientists inside Iran. According to BBC, four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated between 2010 and 2012.

Iran Pledges Revenge

A top Iranian official said arch foe Israel was behind the attack. "In the last days of the political life of their ... ally (Trump), the Zionists seek to intensify pressure on Iran and create a full-blown war," Hossein Dehghan, a military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said. He vowed retribution for the killing of Fakhrizadeh. "We will strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr and will make them regret their action," he said.

Everyone Silent

Global capitals remained silent though Iran accused Israel of carrying out the attack. The United Nations urged restraint, while a former CIA chief the killing was a reckless and dangerous move. "This was a criminal act & highly reckless. It risks lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict," John Brennan said. He underscored the fact that Fakhrizadeh was not a designated terrorist or member of any terror outfit.