Iran threat: USA forming ‘coalition’ of navies to protect ships amid Iran tensions

Iran threat: USA forming ‘coalition’ of navies to protect ships amid Iran tensions

Brian Hook, America’s special representative for Iran, was speaking hours before the seizure by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard of a UK-flagged oil tanker, the , in the . He told assembled diplomats in Washington the increasingly heated rhetoric between the Islamic Republic and the West necessitated what he termed a coalition to ensure the safety of vessels in the region. US Central Command later described the plans as “a multinational maritime effort” known as Operation Sentinel.

A spokesman added: “The goal of Operation Sentinel is to promote maritime stability, ensure safe passage, and de-escalate tensions in international waters throughout the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait (BAM) and the Gulf of Oman.

“This maritime security framework will enable nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance.”

The already strained relationship between Iran and the US has worsened since Donald Trump’s election as President in 2016, and his decision to pull the US out of the Joint Plan of Comprehensive Action (JPOCA) aimed at preventing Iran developing nuclear weapons, and subsequent imposition of stringent sanctions against Tehran, has exacerbated the situation.

Prior to yesterday’s seizure of the Stena Impero, vehemently denied Mr Trump’s claims that an Iranian drone had been shot down by USS Boxer.

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, tweeted: “We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else.

“I am worried that USS Boxer has shot down their own UAS [Unmanned Aerial System] by mistake.”

earlier said the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, had taken “defensive action” against the drone.

He added: “The US reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce.”

A reporter on board the vessel said an Iranian navy helicopter had been chased away by a US helicopter after flying too close to the deck.

Meanwhile, the UK Government’s emergency committee met on Friday night to discuss the hijacking of the Stena Impero, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemning Iran’s actions as “unacceptable”.

In reference to the seizure of Iran-flagged tanker Grace 1 by Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar, Mr Hunt later tweeted: “Yesterday’s action in Gulf shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar’s legal detention of oil bound for Syria.”

Britain’s government said it had advised British shipping to stay out of the Hormuz area for an interim period.

A senior politician and Revolutionary Guards commander, Major General Mohsen Rezai, said on Twitter that Iran was also not looking for war, “but we are not going to come up short in reciprocating”.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Saturday that Iran was the guarantor of security in the Gulf and the strait.

Allahmorad Afifipour, head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province, said the seizure had followed a collision between the and an Iranian shipping boat.

He told semi-official Iranian news agency Fars the tanker and its 23 crew members – 18 of whom are Indian – would remain in the Iranian port of Bander Abbas while the accident was investigated.