US navy pre­pares al­lies to ‘pro­tect nav­i­ga­tion’ in Gulf

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

AT SEA: The United States is train­ing Gulf al­lies to “pro­tect nav­i­ga­tion” in the re­gion’s trou­bled wa­ter­ways, as it seeks to build an al­liance to con­tain Iran. Washington’s three-week In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Ex­er­cise (IMX), which started on Oct 21, came after a num­ber of com­mer­cial ves­sels were attacked in the Gulf from May, ratch­et­ing up re­gional ten­sions. Washington and other Western pow­ers blamed the in­ci­dents on Iran, which has de­nied any in­volve­ment.

On Tues­day, the US in­vited in­ter­na­tional me­dia to see part of the IMX, the sec­ond-largest mar­itime ex­er­cise of its kind. The ma­neu­vers in­volve 5,000 per­son­nel, 40 ves­sels and 17 air­crafts from 50 coun­tries de­ployed to the strate­gic wa­ter­way that sep­a­rates Iran from the pro-US Arab Gulf monar­chies. “This is the first time we are tak­ing part in the IMX,” the head of a Saudi naval de-min­ing team, Ali Bin Shreidi, told AFP aboard the Cardi­gan Bay, a Bri­tish Royal Fleet Aux­il­lary land­ing ship 65 km off Bahrain’s coast.

The of­fi­cer and his three-mem­ber team were tak­ing part in or­der “to in­crease our ca­pa­bil­i­ties and share our

ex­per­tise in fight­ing mines, in or­der to pro­tect nav­i­ga­tion,” he said. In June, the US Navy al­leged that a mine re­sem­bling Ira­nian weaponry was used in an at­tack on the Ja­panese-owned Kokuka Coura­geous tanker, tar­geted as it passed through the Gulf of Oman. Then in July, Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards seized a Bri­tish-flagged oil tanker, hold­ing it for more than two months be­fore re­leas­ing it.

“One of the big­gest rea­sons for us be­ing out here is to build in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions,” said US Navy lieu­tenant Jonathan Phares who was among 300 per­son­nel from the US, France and the Gulf on the Cardi­gan Bay. Those aboard showed off div­ing gear, un­der­wa­ter imag­ing kit and speed boats dur­ing a tour of the gun-metal grey ves­sel, while oth­ers demon­strated mine de­tec­tion equip­ment. But they were tight-lipped about ten­sions with Iran. “We’ve been used more than in the past,” said a US mines ex­pert who de­clined to be named.

In re­sponse to the string of in­ci­dents in the re­gion’s vi­tal ship­ping routes, the US formed a naval coali­tion to pro­tect nav­i­ga­tion in a wa­ter­way that is crit­i­cal to global oil sup­plies. Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, joined the US-led naval coali­tion in Au­gust. Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates fol­lowed suit in Septem­ber. The United King­dom and Australia are the main Western coun­tries to have agreed to send war­ships to es­cort com­mer­cial ship­ping in the Gulf.

An­i­mos­ity be­tween Tehran and Washington and its al­lies has soared since the US uni­lat­er­ally aban­doned a multi­na­tional deal on curb­ing Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram last year and reim­posed heavy sanc­tions on the Is­lamic repub­lic. On Sept 14, drone strikes tar­geted two Saudi oil fa­cil­i­ties, caus­ing cat­a­strophic dam­age and tem­po­rar­ily knock­ing out half of the king­dom’s oil pro­duc­tion.

The at­tacks were claimed by Ye­men’s Houthi rebels who are bat­tling a Saudi-led coali­tion, but Washington and Riyadh blamed Iran, say­ing the strikes were car­ried out with ad­vanced mis­siles and drones. Most Euro­pean states have de­clined to par­tic­i­pate in the naval coali­tion, fear­ful of un­der­min­ing their ef­forts to save the nu­clear ac­cord with Iran, which was badly weak­ened by the US withdrawal.

— AFP

AT SEA: A US pi­lot on Bri­tain’s RFA Cardi­gan Bay land­ing ship pre­pares to board a he­li­copter for a re­con­nais­sance flight in the Gulf wa­ters off Bahrain dur­ing the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Ex­er­cise (IMX) on Tues­day.

— AFP

ADEN: A bill­board bear­ing por­traits of Saudi King Sal­man, Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, UAE Pres­i­dent Sheikh Khal­ifa bin Zayed Al-Na­hayan and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan is seen on a main road in this Red Sea Ye­meni port city yes­ter­day.

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