The US has chosen Bahrain to host the command centre for the newly launched US-led naval coalition, to counter threats of maritime navigation in the region, as Washington blames Iran for being the perpetrator of a series of attacks and harassments over shipping in Middle East waters.
After six naval attacks against Middle Eastern, European and American targets between May and June, the US has decided to take the initiative to mobilise an international maritime force, to protect vital shipping routes in the Arabian Gulf, along with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Australia, UK, US, and the latest member announced on November 1st, Albania.
The coalition, also known as the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC), and previously dubbed Operation Sentinel, aims to “ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waters,” the US Central Command said in a release.
The US has specified the role of the coalition as “threat-based” but not “threatening.” Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, said, “we employ capable warships on patrol, but there is no offensive line of effort in this construct, other than a commitment to defend each other if attacked,” Malloy declared, according to AFP.
The idea of the coalition was born after Iran’s involvement in continuous aggression against oil vessels throughout the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Oman. The attacks against vessels have harmed shipping movement in some of the world’s most vital waterways, and triggered Western countries like Australia and Britain to send warships to escort shipping in the Gulf. Oil production capacity was paralysed temporarily in Saudi Arabia, after attacks against the oil facilities of Abqaiq and Khurais, on September 14th.
The vessels in the coalition will be escorted through the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic chokepoint at the head of the Gulf, and the main artery for the transporting of Middle East oil.
Iran has adopted an aggressive reaction since US President Donald Trump’s escalation of sanctions against it, to curb its violations of its nuclear programme, since Washington announced its withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal in mid-2018.
Last May, the US announced it would send hundreds of additional troops, and a dozen fighter jets, to the Middle East, to counter Iran, after Tehran was blamed for carrying out tanker bombings near the United Arab Emirates, and a rocket attack in Iraq.
Four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, including two Saudi crude oil tankers, a UAE-flagged fuel bunker barge, and a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker in mid-May.
On July 19th, Britain said Iran had seized two oil tankers in the Gulf. On June 20th, a US military drone was shot down in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.
As a result of all these attacks, and official charges by the harmed parties that Iran was behind them, the US called for the establishment of an international coalition to counter the attacks.