US To Send Reinforcements To Gulf After Iran Ship Threats

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The United States said Friday it was sending reinforcements to the Gulf after increasing harassment by Iran of ships in the oil-rich waters. US officials said that the US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet would increase the rotation of ships and aircraft patrolling around the Strait of Hormuz. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the Pentagon would also work with regional allies to “increase coordination and interoperability” with their forces in the area. There is “simply no justification” for Iranian actions to interfere, harass or attack merchant vessels in the Middle East, Kirby said.

Specifically, Kirby said the United States was taking action to “counter Iranian attempts to disrupt maritime freedoms and trade through the Strait of Hormuz.” Iranian actions have included “dangerous and destabilizing behavior by the Islamic Republic of Iran against commercial shipping, and the IRGC’s repeated, unwarranted attacks and armed seizures of merchant’s vessels,” he said.

He noted that the US had “taken steps to bolster our defensive posture” in the Gulf, including moving stealthy F-22 and older F-15C warplanes to two regional bases. The move gives the United States more capability against coastal missile batteries that could threaten shipping and a broader range of targets deeper inside Iran. The Navy has also moved a converted amphibious transport and docking ship, the Ponce, into the Gulf to serve as it’s first floating staging base in the area for military operations or humanitarian aid.

The US also has raised its contingency planning for the Persian Gulf, elevating the reshaping of forces under a new command called Central Command. The Pentagon also has expanded its readiness to deploy ground forces in the region if necessary and increased its ties with the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Amid the diplomatic crisis, a top official at the State Department warned that any significant disruption in oil shipments through the Gulf would have profound implications on international markets and the economies of countries that depend on them for energy. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, president of the World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden, said such a disruption could impact oil prices and force the shipping industry to find other routes or pay higher prices for fuel.

The US official who spoke to reporters, who was not authorized to speak publicly, emphasized that the US actions were not merely about Iran’s nuclear program but more about its “regional hegemonistic ambitions.” He said Tehran’s actions are “dangerous and irresponsible” and must stop. The White House is expected to hold a telephone conversation between Vice President Joe Biden and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later on Friday. The two leaders have held such calls and are “in close and regular communication,” the official said. Biden will leave for Australia on Saturday but is expected to discuss the crisis with his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne. She is to visit the Gulf next week to meet with Gulf leaders and discuss the crisis.

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