The United Kingdom announced on Monday that it would take part in a new U.S.-led international maritime security mission to protect merchant shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, a strategic area at the heart of tensions with Iran.
The deployment would strengthen security and reassure maritime transport, British Foreign Minister Dominique Raab said, adding that Britain’s aim was to build the broadest possible international support to enforce freedom of navigation in the region.
The mission is a U.S. attempt to put together an international coalition to escort ships in the Gulf. So far, it seems to have attracted few countries. Many of Washington’s allies appear to be cautiously avoiding being dragged into an open conflict in the region.
Before signing on to the U.S.-led mission, London had said in July that it wished to see a protection mission put together with Europe in response to the seizure by Iran of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Straits of Hormuz.
However, Monday’s announcement in no way changes Britain’s policy on Iran, the U.K. Foreign Minister said. “We remain committed to working with Iran and our international partners to de-escalate the situation and maintain the nuclear deal,” he stressed.
Tensions have been mounting in the region since the U.S, withdrawal in May 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal followed by the re-imposition of heavy U.S. sanctions against Tehran. The tensions have grown in intensity in recent weeks, with attacks on tankers in the Gulf, blamed by Washington on Iran, which denies any involvement.
On Sunday Iran announced that it had seized a foreign tanker in the Gulf, the third in three months in the region, through which a third of the world’s maritime oil shipments pass.
London had already decided to escort British-flagged civilian vessels in the Gulf.