Australia joins naval mission in Strait of Hormuz

August 21, 2019

TEHRAN - Australia has joined Great Britain and Bahrain in signing onto a U.S.-led maritime security mission that the U.S. claimed is aimed at protecting international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, but Tehran believes the real reason for it is to threaten its interests in the Persian Gulf.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday that Australia will contribute troops, a surveillance plane and a Navy frigate off the coast of Iran.

“The government has decided that it is in Australia’s national interest to work with our international partners to contribute. Our contribution will be limited in scope and it will be time-bound,” Aljazeera quoted him as saying.

Morrison said Australia will send a P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane to the Middle East for one month before the end of the year, while an Australian frigate will be deployed in January 2020 for six months.

Australia’s deployment will expand U.S.-led efforts to secure the strait, which lies between Oman and Iran, after tensions spiked between Tehran and the United States.

At least 15 percent of crude oil and up to 30 percent of refined oil destined for Australia transits through the Persian Gulf.

The friction is rooted in U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in May 2018 to unilaterally withdraw from a landmark nuclear deal signed in 2015 between world powers and Iran.

Since then, the U.S. has reinstated sweeping sanctions against Tehran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign and has also beefed up its military presence in the region.

The tensions escalated in May, when the U.S. accused Iran of sabotaging tankers in the shipping route, allegations vehemently denied by Iran.

UK’s Ministry of Defense announced this month that Royal Navy vessels will work alongside the U.S. Navy to escort vessels through the busy strait.

Britain has been giving UK-flagged vessels a naval escort since Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seized a British oil tanker last month. The move followed the seizing of an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar in July by Britain.

Earlier this month, Germany ruled out participating in the U.S.-led mission, prompting a frustrated response from U.S. officials.

Last week, Iran warned Israel against supporting the mission, saying it reserved the right to confront a “clear threat”.

In June, Iran downed a U.S. military surveillance drone in the Persian Gulf with a surface-to-air missile. The drone violated Iran’s airspace.

SP/PA

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