US Navy Takes Action: Heightened Patrols Respond To Increase In Tanker Seizures By Iran

The US Navy and its European and Middle Eastern allies have significantly ramped up their naval and air patrols around the Strait of Hormuz after a spate of Iran-led civilian tanker seizures.

Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet commander, spoke to the representatives of the commercial shipping industry on Wednesday via teleconference from Bahrain to assure them of the enhanced security steps.

The precautions came through as a response to at least two Iranian seizures of commercial vessels. Al-Monitor reported earlier that one was in retaliation for a US Justice Department seizure of another tanker loaded with Iran’s fuel to China.

US steps up Gulf patrols amid increasing tanker seizures by Iran. Representation Image.

The naval coalition led by Europeans in the region is gradually taking a lead role in the allied show of force, and the US defence officials state that no new American assets have been deployed to the region for increased patrols.

The US is known to have fewer naval assets in the region than just some years ago. In September 2022, the Fifth Fleet commander, Brad Cooper, mentioned that only a P8 Poseidon aircraft was in-theatre.

To boost the force flow in the strategic choke point, there is no need to send out a bunch of assets, one of the US military officials had commented. The assets can be rotated more frequently.

In recent years, Washington has leaned on the European allies to deploy naval assets to the Middle East as the Pentagon shifted focus toward deterring China.

On Tuesday, Vice Adm. Emmanuel Slaars, the commander of French naval forces for the Indian Ocean, met with the chief of Oman’s armed forces, Rear Admiral Abdullah bin Khamis Al Raisi, following a discussion over the phone with the Fifth Fleet commander, Cooper, on Saturday.

On Thursday, an Italian destroyer also reached the Gulf region following last week’s French frigate.
In 2019, France stood up the popular European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH) mission 2019 as a parallel force to US-spearheaded missions amid rising concerns among the European capitals that the Trump administration’s strategy to deterring Iran was way too escalatory.

In comparison to the previous Trump era, the Biden administration in the US has had significant success, expanding the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC), which reportedly stood up in response to attacks from Iran in 2019, from six to nine member nations, and collaborating with EMASOH closely.

The US has deployed an advanced cruise-missile submarine for the Gulf region. Besides, it has extended the stay of an aircraft carrier to the eastern Med in recent months, as the Pentagon practices flexible deployments aimed at being relatively less predictable to Iranian top brass.

The Biden administration has been leaning into a “deterrence by detection” strategy toward the clandestine activities of Iran.

The Islamic Republic, however, prefers operating with deniability, indicating more eyes-on on the Strait may lower the chances of seizures and drone attacks on Israel-associated shipping, which Iran appears to execute in retaliation for the Israeli covert actions episodically.

The enhanced security could suggest that there can be further US seizures of Iran’s petroleum shipments. A dozen lawmakers from the two parties urged Biden in April this year to order US seizures of sanctioned Iran fuel shipments in line with US law.

For its part, over the past two years, forces of Iran have interfered with 15 commercial merchant vessels in Middle Eastern waters, per information from the US Fifth Fleet.

In the meantime, the Russian navy chief paid a visit to Tehran on Tuesday to extend its trilateral cooperation with China.

The exercises are flimsy compared to the biannual International Maritime Exercise of the US Fifth Fleet, which the US held for the second year in 2023 in what relevant officials referred to as a fantastic display of technical proficiency.

References: The New York Times, Al-Monitor

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