Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf D+24 (2 August, 1987)

As the conflict in Europe escalated with near reckless abandon throughout most of the day and raised the prospect of a global nuclear exchange, Iran and Iraq were moving to maintain low profiles for the time being. An unofficial ceasefire took effect over the battleline by the afternoon. Neither Tehran or Baghdad wanted to attract the attention of either the United States or Soviet Union. This held especially true for Iraq and Saddam Hussein considering how the Iraqi strongman had attempted to play the Superpowers off on each other at separate points in the war. The Soviets had even gone as far as to hint at the possible use of nuclear weapons against Iraq in retaliation for its treachery. As for Iran, its hatred of the Great Satan remained white hot. Especially in light of the US Navy’s air and sea attacks on Iranian naval units in and around the Strait of Hormuz on the previous day. Tehran’s animosity against the Soviet Union was slightly less heated, however, Ayatollah Khomeini did not want to provoke the anger of either Washington or Moscow at this inherently dangerous, as well as potentially beneficial moment. After all, in the event of a major nuclear exchange that destroyed both the US and Soviet Union, the Islamic Republic of Iran would emerge as first among a post-war world of equal nation-states. Or so went Khomeini’s thinking.

The Persian Gulf was not priority for either superpower on D+24, but the continued presence of Soviet and US forces in the region put it in the crosshairs in the event of a large exchange. As D+24 moved along and the situation in Europe moved from bad to worse, US forces in the Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf reacted. On the tiny island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, B-52Gs armed with nuclear weapons and accompanying KC-135 tankers launched and flew to positive control points near the Arabian Sea. Later in the evening the tankers would be relieved by ones based at Saudi Arabian airbases as the effort to keep the B-52s fueled and ready to conduct SIOP missions against targets in the southern Soviet Union continued on until the recall orders were finally issued.

The aircraft carrier USS Constellation also made preparations comparable to those made by her sister US Navy carriers around the world. A-6E Intruders were armed with B-61s and spotted on deck along with support aircraft. The carrier and her escorts also started moving to a new station east of the Gulf of Oman where Connie’s air wing would be in position to strike Soviet targets in Afghanistan.

CENTCOM ground and air forces in the region also prepared for a possible NBC conflict. Aircraft were dispersed as much as possible. Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states did not have an abundance of airfields in August 1987. Highways were utilized for temporary use when and where possible. The 7th Marine Amphibious Brigade and 82nd Airborne Division spread out and dispersed their subunits into the desert as much as possible to minimize the affects of nuclear blasts and chemical contamination.

As the final day of the Third World War drew to a close in the Middle East the seeds of a future conflict were planted and ready to bloom. Iraq and Iran were honoring an uneasy if temporary ceasefire. Kuwait remained under Iraqi occupation.  Saddam Hussein and the Ayatollah Khomeini each had designs on what the post-war shape the Persian Gulf region should be. But so did the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE as well as the exiled Kuwaiti royal family. The United States government also had its own ideas of what the post-war order should look like in the Middle East. Unbeknownst to Washington in early August of 1987, American influence and military power would play an increasingly large and critical role in geopolitics of the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf in the years to come.

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