With regional tensions flaring anew in the wake of Thursday’s drone incident and Friday’s seizure of two UK-linked tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the US is ramping up what’s being billed as a “multinational maritime initiative” designed to secure key shipping lanes.
The effort, “Operation Sentinel”, will “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”, US Central Command said Friday.
In addition to recent attacks in the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb has been a key flashpoint during the ongoing conflict in Yemen, where the Saudi-led coalition has been fighting to oust the Iran-backed Houthis since 2015. Last summer, the Saudis temporarily suspended oil shipments through the strait.
“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 US declared Friday, adding that Washington will coordinate with allies and partners in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East “on the details and capabilities required”.
Also on Friday evening, the Navy said it’s stepping up surveillance in the Gulf in light of recent events. “We have patrol aircraft operating in international airspace monitoring the situation within the Strait of Hormuz”, CentCom’s chief of media operations, Lt. Col. Earl Brown, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the US is set to deploy hundreds of troops to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Salman. “This movement of forces provides an additional deterrent, and ensures our ability to defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats”, CentCom said.
The troops are reportedly part of the deployment unveiled last month, when the Pentagon announced another 1,000 soldiers would be dispatched to the region without saying where.
What’s notable in all of this is that Trump has, through it all, not jumped at the opportunity to bomb Iran or otherwise escalate the situation to the point where going back is impossible. The president famously called off strikes on radar and missile batteries at the last minute in June and his tone over the past several weeks has been reasonably measured. Sure, he’s lashed out on Twitter from time to time, but the White House has had every opportunity to do something drastic and everyone knows John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are pushing for military action.
The fact that Trump hasn’t forged ahead does, in fact, suggest his professed desire to avoid costly foreign wars is some semblance of sincere.