US Moves Amid Growing Tensions With Iran in the Gulf


In response to Iran’s seizure of oil tankers in recent weeks in Gulf waters, the United States decided to send reinforcements and bolster its defensive posture in the Gulf. The recent tit-for-tat retaliations indicate the growing tensions between the United States and Iran and their consequences for maritime security, especially in the Strait of Hormuz and for global supply chains.

In the month of April, the United States seized the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker Suez Rajan that was bound for China with Iranian crude oil as part of its sanctions enforcement operation. Likely in retaliation, Iranian naval forces seized the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker Advantage Sweet on April 27, nearly 40 miles east of Fujairah, in the south of the Strait of Hormuz. The oil tanker was carrying Kuwaiti crude oil for the US multinational energy company Chevron Corp. As per reports, the Turkish-operated oil tanker was seized after departing from Kuwait while on its way to the US city of Houston. Soon after the seizure, US Central Command issued a statement in which it blamed Iran. As per the statement, “In the past two years, Iran has unlawfully seized at least five commercial vessels sailing in the Middle East.” The US Fifth Fleet, after monitoring the worrying developments, decided to take steps to bolster maritime security in Gulf waters in collaboration with both the International Maritime Security Construct and European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz. According to Iranian media outlets, the oil tanker was seized after an overnight collision with an Iranian vessel that caused Iranian crew personnel to go missing and left some injured. Deputy for Operations at the Iranian Navy Mostafa Tajodini informed the Iranian state media, “We repeatedly called on the vessel to stop so we can conduct a more comprehensive investigation, but there was no cooperation.” Iranian media outlets also claimed that the oil tanker had fled after the collision and ignored radio calls for eight hours. On May 3, Iran seized a second oil tanker prompting the US State Department to call for its release. As per reports, the Panama-flagged oil tanker Niovi was seized by Iran’s IRGC Navy in the early morning while passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Responding to the seizure, US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said that the US Department of Defense would be making a series of moves to bolster the United States’ defensive posture in the Gulf. The US Fifth Fleet also issued a statement saying that the United States is working with regional allies and partners to increase the rotation of ships and aircraft for patrolling purposes. Both ships are currently positioned in the Gulf after being seized. When asked whether the US response to these developments was effective during a press conference, US Department of State Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said that the United States had a number of tools at its disposal to hold Iran accountable and the United States would not hesitate to use them. Patel also said that the United States would take necessary measures to protect the security of its allies and partners in the Gulf. The recent tensions reflect key considerations for both the United States and Iran on the maritime front in Gulf waters. Firstly, the US is now keen on ensuring security for its partners and allies in the Gulf and the decision to bolster its defensive posture intends to invoke confidence among its Gulf partners and allies. On May 19, in a show of force and demonstrating a unified approach against Iran, the Middle East-based naval commanders of the United States, the UK and France transited through the Strait of Hormuz aboard the USS Paul Hamilton, a US warship. Secondly, the Biden administration continues to face domestic pressure to adopt a tougher position on Iran. Recently, several former US diplomats, members of the US Congress and US representatives to international organizations wrote a letter to President Biden to pressure him to reimpose the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. Thirdly, the Strait of Hormuz remains significant for the United States in terms of energy, trade and securing its long-term security interests. Any direct or indirect threat to the strait will pose significant economic and military risks for the United States. Hence, it is important for the United States to swiftly respond to any threats in the strait. Fourthly, since last year, the growing presence of US drones has caused apprehension in Iran, with it briefly seizing some US sea drones that were tested in August and September 2022. The United States also recently sailed its first drone boat through the Strait of Hormuz. The 13-meter speedboat, L3 Harris Arabian Fox MAST-13 with sensors and cameras completed its voyage through the Gulf accompanied by two US Coast Guard cutters, the USCGC Charles Moulthrope and USCGC John Scheuerman. Fifthly, Iran continues to assert its maritime influence in Gulf waters, especially amid escalating tensions with the United States. Iran is fully aware of the strategic importance of the Strait of Hormuz and the implications of its closure or volatility in this critical waterway for global supply chains. Hence, it leverages its geopolitical position whenever tensions arise with the United States or it needs to pressure Western parties to make concessions or show flexibility toward it.

Editorial Team