The US is beefing up its use of fighter jets around the strategic Strait of Hormuz to protect ships from Iranian seizures, a senior defense official told reporters on Friday, according to The Associated Press.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters, the official said the US will send F-16 fighter jets to the Gulf region to augment the A-10 attack aircraft that have been patrolling there for more than a week.
The official also said that the US is increasingly concerned about the growing ties between Iran, Russia and Syria across the Middle East.
The defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the F-16s will give air cover to the ships moving through the waterway and increase the military’s visibility in the area, as a deterrent to Iran.
The US move comes after Iran tried to seize two oil tankers near the strait last week, opening fire on one of them.
Officials have said that, in the past two years, Iran has harassed, attacked or interfered with the navigational rights of 15 internationally flagged commercial vessels.
In late April, Iran seized the Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet as it traveled in the Gulf of Oman. Six days later, it seized a second ship, the Niovi, a Panama-flagged tanker as it left a dry dock in Dubai.
The Strait of Hormuz, a crucial waterway for global energy supplies, has often been a site of tense encounters between Americans and Iranian forces.
In early December, an Iranian patrol boat tried to temporarily blind US Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz by shining a spotlight toward the vessels and crossing within 150 yards of them.
Last August, an Iranian ship seized an American military unmanned research vessel in the Gulf but released it after a US Navy patrol boat and helicopter were deployed to the location.