• This is the fifth Bomber Task Force mission into the Middle East in the last few months
  • The flight was the second such mission of 2021
  • US-Iran tensions have risen following the assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last year

As a show of force against Iran, the U.S. on Sunday flew B-52 bombers over the Middle East, but the Persian nation's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif seems unperturbed. Zarif quipped on Twitter that America, which has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, should instead spend that money on its taxpayers' healthcare.

The US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the region, tweeted that the B-52H crews conducted the Middle East “presence patrol” as part of its “defensive posture."

Reacting to the U.S. “presence patrol," Zarif tweeted that if the move was meant to intimidate or warn Iran, the US should have spent the money on taxpayers' health. "While we have not started a war in over 200 years, we don’t shy from crushing aggressors. Just ask your BFFs who supported Saddam," he tweeted. BFFs means “best friends forever."

The latest military exercises come amid ongoing tensions between the US and Iran following the assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November last year. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had claimed that Israel, a U.S. ally, was behind the killing and vowed to avenge.

The B-52 bombers were the fifth Bomber Task Force mission into the Middle East in the last few months and the second such mission of 2021, the US Central Command said in a statement. “Bomber Task Force missions are observable ways to demonstrate the US military's continuing commitment to regional security,” Central Command’s commander said.

“Short-term deployments of strategic assets are an important part of our defensive posture in the region,” said Gen. McKenzie. “The training opportunity and continued integration with regional partners improves [sic] readiness and delivers a clear and consistent message in the operational environment to both friends and potential adversaries, alike.”

B-52H “Stratofortress" is capable of carrying up to 32,000kg of weapons – including nuclear bombs — according to Al-Jazeera. The B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions and is slated to be in service beyond 2040, according to the US Department of Defence.

The B-52 can perform strategic attack, close-air support, air interdiction, offensive counter-air and maritime operations in a conventional conflict. The B-52 is capable of dropping or launching the widest array of weapons in the U.S. inventory, the U.S. Department of Defense noted, and has an unrefueled combat range in excess of 8,800 miles (14,080 kilometers).

The hostility between Iran and the U.S. has been rising since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal. President-elect Joe Biden has said he wants to potentially re-enter the deal, which was negotiated and signed during President Barack Obama’s administration.

In a CNN op-ed published in November, Biden had said that if "Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations."

Al-Jazeera noted that analysts have warned President Donald Trump could take military action against Iran before leaving office. The U.S. military has, in recent weeks, taken a series of steps to deter Iran while insisting publicly that it is not planning to take unprovoked action against Iran.

U.S. Air Force B-52 Strategic Bombers
A U.S. Air Force B-52 is seen through the window of another as it prepares for a mid-air refuel during a training mission in the United Kingdom's airspace, June 17, 2014. Reuters/Andrew Winning