Western navies are planning a show of force off the coast of Iran next week with a large military exercise involving American, British and French forces after many confrontations between Iranian and US navy in the gulf in recent months.
Exercise “Unified Trident,” which will reportedly involve a simulation of a confrontation with Iran, is intended to “enhance mutual capabilities, improve tactical proficiency and strengthen partnerships in ensuring the free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation,” according to US Naval Forces Central Command.
It will be held near the coast of Bahrain by Combined Task Force 50, and will involve aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates from the three nations.
The show of force next week will see Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean and Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring deploy to the Gulf in a show of “deterrence and reassurance” alongside American warships USS Hopper and USS Mahan and French anti-aircraft frigate FS Forbin.
Confrontation with US navy in the gulf
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats allegedly opened fire at the USS Mahan on January 8, which was passing through the Strait of Hormuz, when they sped towards it.
The U.S. Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels near the Strait of Hormuz after they closed in at high speed and disregarded repeated requests to slow down.
“This was an unsafe and unprofessional interaction, and that is due to the fact that they were approaching at a high level of speed with weapons manned and disregarding repeated warnings,” Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a briefing.
The warning shots were fired at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats by the USS Mahan after it established radio contact but failed to get them to slow down, Davis said, confirming earlier accounts of U.S. defense officials.
2016 witnessed numerous confrontation incidents between the Iranianian and the US naval powers.
Most recently in August, another U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots toward an Iranian fast-attack craft that approached two U.S. ships.
In this incident, US naval ships in the northern Arabic Gulf were harassed by an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessel, which came within 200 yards of the US ships. Following standard maritime procedures, the USS Squall fired three warning shots to ensure the Iranians understood they needed to leave the immediate area.
There have been 31 unsafe America encounters with Iranian vessels in the Arabian Gulf in 2016 until September, up from 23 in all of 2015, the official said.
War threats ?
Former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Lord West, told Middle East Eye that the timing of the drills was “worrying” and that military commander would be “acutely aware of rising tensions” in the region in the wake of comments by Trump.
The admiral said: “There is no doubt that tensions are rising and that loose talk by President Trump is escalating the situation.
“I personally think the Iranian nuclear deal was a good deal that stopped Iran developing nuclear weapons. Trump disagrees though, and his views on Iran are far more strident.”
During the exercise HMS Daring and HMS Ocean are likely to join with US and French warships to simulate destroying Iranian combat jets, ships and coastal missile batteries.
In the event of war, the main threat to the US-led coalition in the Gulf will come from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps navy. This force would be expected to use an “access-denial” strategy by attacking American and British warships, targeting merchant shipping and mining vital maritime chokepoints in the Gulf.
Defence experts say that although Iran’s capability is limited and it is outclassed by American and British forces, it could still deliver a series of lethal blows using a combination of mini-submarines, fast attack boats, mines and shore-based anti-ship missile batteries.
However, a Royal Navy spokesman said: “HMS Ocean and a Type 45 Destroyer will be the RN participants in Exercise Unified Trident. This is a routine exercise that has been planned for a considerable time. We don’t comment on force protection measures.”