US coalition launches operation to protect Persian Gulf

US-led naval coalition officially launches operations meant to protect shipping in waters of Persian Gulf.

Ben Ariel ,

Oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz
Oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

A US-led naval coalition officially launched operations in Bahrain on Thursday meant to protect shipping in the troubled waters of the Persian Gulf, AFP reported.

The coalition, aimed at warding off the perceived threat to the world’s oil supply, has been in the making since June.

It follows a string of attacks that Washington and its allies blamed on Iran, which has denied any responsibility.

Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, joined the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) in August.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates followed suit in September.

Australia and Britain are the main Western countries to have agreed to send warships to escort Gulf shipping. The newest member, Albania, joined on Friday, according to AFP.

The plans to build the coalition of nations, known as Operation Sentinel, were announced by the US following continued tensions with Iran in the region, culminating in the seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker by Iran.

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 transport of Middle East oil.

Iran regularly holds drills at the Strait of Hormuz, which is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and through which about a third of all oil traded at sea passes.

The Islamic Republic has threatened more than once to close the Strait of Hormuz, with the United States warning Iran in response that any attempt to close the strait would be viewed as a "red line" -- grounds for US military action.

In the last few years there have been several close encounters between Iranian and American vessels in the area.

Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of US Naval Forces in the Middle East, said Operation Sentinel is a defensive measure aimed at protecting Gulf waters.

Most European governments have declined to participate in the naval coalition, fearful of undermining their efforts to save the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, which was badly weakened by Washington’s withdrawal last year.