US plans Gulf naval escort ops after Iranians menace UK oil tanker

US plans Gulf naval escort ops after Iranians menace UK oil tanker

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The Pentagon said Thursday it was discussing military escorts for vessels in the Gulf one day after armed Iranian boats threatened a British oil tanker.
The White House’s nominee to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said Washington was attempting to put together a coalition “in terms of providing military escort, naval escort to commercial shipping,” he said.
“I think that that will be developing over the next couple weeks,” Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
His statement came after London accused Tehran Thursday of deploying three military vessels to “impede the passage” of a 274-meter (899-foot) BP tanker, the British Heritage.
“We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards denied involvement but also warned both the United States and Britain that they would “strongly regret” the British detention of a fully-loaded Iranian tanker off Gibraltar last week for allegedly violating sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Officials in Britain and France would not confirm the discussions on a tanker escort operation, which comes amid heightened tensions in the Gulf after Iran was accused of using limpet mines to blow holes in ships in the Gulf area in May and June and US President Donald Trump came close to ordering an attack on Iran in retaliation.
The US, Britain and France all maintain a naval presence in the Gulf.
But both London and Paris have been reticent to join in Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran to force it to pull back on its involvement in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
British media reported that the possible deployment of more Royal Navy ships to the region was “being looked at” in government meetings on Thursday in the aftermath of the newest incident.
But in France, a government official told AFP that they were not planning for the moment to expand their presence in the Gulf.
Earlier this week, General Joseph Dunford, the top US military officer, said the United States could lead any escort operation and provide surveillance as other countries protected tankers under their own flags.
The move would reprise the 1987-1988 US operation to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers from Iranian attacks during the Iran-Iraq war.
Up to 30 warships were deployed by Washington to the region, and five other governments joined in, including Britain and France.

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