US Military May Protect Commercial Ships Near Iran

Pentagon officials are considering placing armed military personnel aboard commercial ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz to stop Iran from harassing and seizing civilian vessels, the Associated Press reported last week.

The unprecedented move comes amid a series of incidents that began in 2019 with Iran seizing ships in the Hormuz Strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf to pressure the West in negotiations on the collapsed nuclear deal.

However, placing US troops aboard commercial ships to deter Iran could serve to further escalate tensions.

According to the Associated Press, the five US officials who discussed the plan stressed that there is no final decision and discussions between US officials and allies in the region are ongoing.

The plan would involve placing US Marines and Navy sailors aboard commercial vessels to provide security if it is requested by the ships involved. One official told the AP that any such deployment would also require approval from the country under which the ship sails as well as the country of the ship’s registered owner. None of this has happened as yet, the official said.

When asked about the plan in a briefing last Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said that he had no announcements to make on the matter. However, Ryder noted that the US has deployed additional vessels, Marines, and aircraft to the Gulf region to make it easier to respond quickly to any provocations by Iran.

Ryder said the aim of the US and its allies in the region is to ensure the strait “remains open” and “malign activity” impeding the “freedom of navigation” is deterred.

Speaking to reporters last week, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby described the Strait of Hormuz as “a vital seaway” with a “huge impact” on world trade and a “critical checkpoint in the maritime world.”

Last Wednesday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched surprise military exercises featuring paratroopers, missile units, and small fast-boats on disputed islands in the Persian Gulf, according to the Associated Press.