By Jubin Katiraie
There is now more political support for a European-led naval mission in the Straits of Hormuz, a vital shipping route that has been repeatedly threatened by Iran, according to the French government on Monday.
The French foreign affairs ministry said the mission is supported by Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal, as well as France.
Since August, Britain has been involved in the US-led naval security mission in the Strait, following Iran’s seizure of merchant's vessels.
Britain's Ministry of Defence said it would "draw largely on assets already in the region" and that the Royal Navy will work alongside the US Navy to escort vessels through the Strait, through which one-fifth of all global crude exports flow.
The UK has already been giving British-flagged vessels in the region a naval escort after the Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, in July. At the time, then-UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK would join with European allies to form a “maritime protection mission” in the strait.
The US administration, as part of its "maximum pressure" campaign on the mullahs, has announced many sanctions against top officials in the Iranian government, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The US increasingly deployed military reinforcements to the region amid threats from the Iranian government following the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in early 2018.
Since then, six oil tankers were targeted by the Iranian forces in the Gulf of Oman, the IRGC shot down an American surveillance drone in the Strait, and the Revolutionary Guard's naval forces seized a United Arab Emirates-based oil tanker, the Panamanian-flagged MT Riah.
After the first attacks, a United States official familiar with American intelligence, told Reuters: “This is what Iran does ... The sort of thing you could see Iran doing ... It fits their M.O. (modus operandi).”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Iranian government was “trying to muddy the waters” by denying responsibility, but that the US assessment is that Iran or their proxies used explosives to blow large holes in the four ships.
Another official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly, told the Associated Press, that each ship had a five to a ten-foot hole in it, near or just below the waterline, caused by explosive charges.
The US warned that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region, and moved additional ships and aircraft into the region.