The US says it wants to create a multinational military coalition to protect the waters around Iran and Yemen.
General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the us armed forces, said he wanted to “ensure freedom of navigation” in the region, which provides the main trade routes.
The US accused Iran of attacking six oil tankers in may and June.
General Dunford said the US is talking to a number of countries with “political will” to support the plans.
According to him, the US will provide “command and control” ships, which will lead to surveillance efforts. However, the aim is for other countries to offer boats to install nearby patrols and escort commercial vessels carrying their flags in the area.
General Dunford said the US “will work directly with the military to identify specific opportunities” that each country should support this initiative.
The Straits of Ormuz and Bab al-Mandab are strategically important places providing access from the Indian ocean to the Persian Gulf and the Red sea respectively.
About a fifth of the world’s oil consumption passes through the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Indian ocean with the Gulf, and oil tankers traveling from the Middle East to Europe through the Red sea must pass through Bab al-Mandab.
General Dunford said that the size of the initiative depends on the number of countries that have decided to participate.
“With a small number of participants, we may have a small mission,” he said. “We will expand this as the number of countries that want to participate identify themselves.”
The United States already has a substantial naval presence in the region and participates in several multinational naval task forces conducting Maritime security, counter-terrorism and anti-piracy operations.
The headquarters of the 5th fleet of the US Navy is located in Bahrain, and also has naval bases in Djibouti, Kuwait and Oman.
The United Kingdom, which also has a naval base in Bahrain, stated that it “constantly monitors the security situation” in the region and “is committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in accordance with international law”.
The frigate of the Royal Navy HMS Montrose was put in the shadow of an oil tanker sailing under the flag of the Isle of man through the Strait of Hormuz.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused the UK of being “the initiator of Maritime insecurity” by hijacking an Iranian oil tanker that was heading to Syria from Gibraltar last week.
General Dunford’s comments raise many questions.
If the threat from Iran – as the Americans insist – is so urgent, why can any operation take a few more weeks?
The US seems only willing to provide command and control, as well as surveillance. The actual patrolling and escorting of merchant ships would have been done by others. What is the message the US administration is sending?
How many other countries contribute? Still not clear. General Dunford says the operation is “scalable”; its size will depend on who is involved.
And what is its scope? The US sees this as a mission that will include not only the Gulf but also the waters of Yemen.
With increasing tensions in the region, many governments will be careful to intervene, but will have to balance this with the practical need to protect their ships. Some may perceive this as an attempt by the US to create something similar to a naval coalition against Tehran.
Why is the US so concerned about shipping?
Last month, the US accused Iranian troops of attacking two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, near the Strait of Hormuz – an accusation that Iran rejected. This was after the attack on four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in may.
A few days after the June attacks, Iranian troops shot down an American drone, which they said violated Iranian airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. The US insisted that the drone flew over international waters.