US Fifth Fleet Element
US Fifth Fleet ElementUS Department of Defense

As tensions rise over Iran's advancing nuclear program, Iranian attacks in the waterways of the Middle East and elsewhere in the region "have the attention of everyone," Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the head of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, told AP Tuesday.

"We’re focused on expanding our partnerships," Cooper said on the sidelines of Abu Dhabi's International Defense Exhibition and Conference. "The short answer is, the Iranian actions have the attention of everyone."

Cooper says he's seen a rise in "malign activities" on Iran's part in the region over his two years leading the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.

While Cooper pointed to recent weapons confiscations by American and allied forces in the region as a success, he acknowledged that Iran has been able to carry out drone attacks targeting shipping in the Middle East and other assaults in the region.

Earlier in the week, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, announced that their monitors in Iran had detected uranium enrichment levels of 84% purity, only 6% less than the amount needed to create a nuclear weapon. Regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions, Cooper says, "Obviously, the nuclear component is all being handled via diplomatic means," adding, "I think over two years, we have for sure seen an increase in the number of malign activities, much of which we've been catching just in the last 60 to 90 days."

Cooper's 5th Fleet is charged with patrolling the waters around the Arabian peninsula, including the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all oil transits.

There have been several Iranian attacks on commercial shipping in the region, including a drone assault on the tanker Campo Square at the beginning of the month. Iran carried out that attack, which wounded no one on board, according to a U.S. defense official who spoke to AP anonymously to discuss intelligence matters.