Australia to Join US-led Shipping Safety Mission

Amidst growing western and international concerns regarding the safety of shipping in the Iranian-controlled Strait of Hormuz, through which some one third of world oil supplies are transported, Australia has announced its intention to join the US military effort to safeguard shipping in the strategic water way. The US endeavor entails deploying an international task force including warships, troops and warplanes in an already tense part of the Middle East.

The US administration has been raising stakes and beefing up military presence following incidents involving  the seizure of two oil tankers, Grace 1, an Iranian super tanker snatched by the British navy in Gibraltar, at the demands of American officials and later released by the local Supreme Court, and the second, the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker seized by Iran in the  Strait of Hormuz in reciprocation.

Breaking international law

Some critics of military involvement in shipping activities have voiced their objection and reservations concerning such a move that will almost definitely r complicate matters with Iran much further, breach international law, and escalate things to a completely new level of risks and dangers with a potential military confrontation no one, except for a bunch of hawks within the Trump administration may be.

Many countries, including some regional and international US friends and allies have shunned away or blatantly turned down the American request to join in.  Australia, however, has pledged to send troops, ships and planes to the Gulf region, as a “modest, meaningful and time-limited” contribution to the United States-led mission in the Strait of Hormuz aimed at protecting freedom of navigation. The United Kingdom and Bahrain are the only other countries to join the US in the Strait of Hormuz. The British government has lobbied and appealed to its European allies to join the US-led mission for safe shipping lanes. IMSC task force shall be stationed in Bahrain, hosting the US 5th Fleet’s regional command.

Triggering the hornet’s nest

Any escalation-building step will be closely monitored by the watchful eye of the Iranians who have maintained a steadfast position regarding security in this maritime lifeline. Iranian military and political leaders have reiterated their readiness to confront, at any cost, any potential threat to their sovereignty over the Strait of Hormuz, or their oil exporting activities despite US sanctions.

“The government has been concerned over incidents involving shipping in the Strait of Hormuz over the past few months,” Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison said on Wednesday as he announced that his country would send forces to the Middle East because of what he called “destabilizing behavior” in the Gulf that constitutes a threat to Australian interests. “Freedom of navigation through international waters is a fundamental right of all states under international law,” he said.

“The government has decided it’s in Australia’s national interests to work with our international partners to contribute to an international maritime security mission in the Middle East.”  Morrison pointed out that some 15% of crude oil and 30% of refined oil destined for Australia came through the Strait of Hormuz. Instability in the region was an economic threat that needed to be confronted, Morrison elaborated. Australia has committed a frigate, surveillance and patrol aircraft and personnel as part of the US-led mission in the Middle East, known as International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC).

Iran’s anticipated response

Such a step will be regarded, at least by the Iranians, as an ” act of aggression in breach of international law”, some critics of Morrison’s decision have pointed out, emphasizing the potential danger it implies, including the possibility of a military showdown that could easily undermine regional security and cause an unpredictable turmoil in international oil market with potentially devastating consequences on many economies of various sizes and capacities worldwide.

Although Tehran has relatively toned down its belligerent rhetoric following its success in forcing the release of its super tanker despite the huge US pressures on Gibraltar’s authorities not to let Grace1 free, its unquestionable resolve to deter any threat emanating from anywhere to its strategic assets, including the Strait of Hormuz remains as solid as a rock.

The June 20th shooting down by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps of a RQ-4A Global Hawk, American state-of-the-art surveillance and spy drone over the Strait of Hormuz, without and retaliatory US response, followed by the daring snatching of the British-flagged  oil tanker some 4 weeks ago, are a two prime examples which unequivocally demonstrate that, whenever needed, Tehran lives up to its threats, means business, and that triggering the hornet’s nest is no picnic anymore.