Noting that Iran’s seizure of the Maersk Tigris M/V yesterday was done in “blatant defiance” of the United States, Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall noted that it was that latest in series of recent provocations in the Persian Gulf, especially since the United States last week sent two ships to the waters off Yemen to deter Iran from shipping weapons to the Houthi rebels.
Strong criticism of the U.S. Navy blocking the Iranian convoy came from two powerful military sources in Iran: Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, former defense minister, and commander of the navies of the Revolutionary Guard and the Iranian Army, as well as Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the Iranian army chief of staff (see “Does Iran’s Navy Directly Arm its Jihadi Allies?”).
The seizure of the Maersk Tigris M/V could be an Iranian signal that it will not countenance the blocking of assistance it seeks to give its Yemeni proxies – the Houthis — and could also be part of the simmering warfare Iran has been waging with Saudi Arabia over influence in the Persian Gulf and beyond. The Saudis refer to the body of water as the “Arabian Gulf.”
A month ago an Iranian reconnaissance aircraft passed provocatively close to an armed MH-60R helicopter from the USS Carl Vinson carrier, part the U.S. fleet. The incident received little media coverage and the United States preferred to play it down, claiming it was a local initiative of Iranian commanders.
In February, Iran destroyed a replica of an American aircraft carrier, and broadcast the exercise on TV, accompanied by a threat—”If the Americans are ready to be buried at the bottom of the waters of the Persian Gulf – so be it”—flashing across the screen.
Segall pointed out that as the nuclear talks with Iran have progressed, the United States has chosen a policy of restraint, and has not responded to these naval provocations or to explicit threats from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders. Segall concludes, “This time Iran has raised the stakes. Will the United States hold back this time as well?”
While the Marshall Islands is a sovereign nation, the United States “has full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands.” In addition to its obligation to the Marshall Islands, Defense Department spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said that the United States was committed “to ensure that shipping lanes remain open, to ensure there’s freedom of navigation through those critical waterways, and to help ensure maritime security.”
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