US calls on allies to patrol Gulf waters

The one-upmanship that has been going on between the United States and Iran was notched a step higher this week by comments from a top US General that Washington plans to enlist the support of its allies to patrol key shipping lanes along the Arabian Peninsula.

On Tuesday, 9 July, US General Joseph Dunfor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced plans to set up a coalition of allied countries to patrol the waters along the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandeb, the two strategic choke-points along which much of the world’s oil passes. On the same day, Hossein Nejata a commander in Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said American bases and aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within range of the country’s missiles. “Our missiles will destroy their aircraft carriers if they make a mistake,” Nejat said. “Americans are very well aware of the consequences of a military confrontation with Iran.”

As part of the plan, General Dunford said the United States would provide command ships and surveillance technology, while its allies would do the actual escorting of ships and take over patrolling of the areas.

The general’s comments came amid heightened tension between the United States and Iran, and the general instability prevailing in the region given the recent attacks on oil tankers off the coast of the UAE and Oman. The US has blamed the attacks on Iran, but has failed to provide any convincing proof for this claim.Senior members of the Trump administration have also accused Tehran of seeking to attack American forces and US interests in the Middle East.

Iran has denied accusations it is planning to attack US forces in the region, or that it was involved in the attack on the tankers in June in the Gulf of Oman. The country has also scoffed at claims that it was behind another incident off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in mid-May.

In May 2018, US President Donald Trump withdrew from the multilateral accord, under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions against its economy. The US administration also reimposed a series of economic sanctions on Iran, as part of its “maximum pressure on Iran” strategy.

For its part, Iran has scaled back its commitment to a 2015 nuclear deal, saying earlier this week that it intended to exceed a cap on uranium enrichment set by that agreement. On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to impose further sanctions on Iran as a result of its plan to enrich uranium beyond the restrictions set by the nuclear deal — a deal from which the US had unilaterally withdrew.

In a bid to drum up more international support in his campaign against Iran, President Trump had called on countries to protect their own ships from Iran, saying that US troops do not “even need to be” in the Gulf. This incidentally, is exactly what Iran said last week when the United States dispatched a naval strike group to the region in a show of strength.