The United States is sending fighter jets as well as a Navy destroyer to the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman in order to bolster security and deter threats to commercial ships, the Defense Department announced on July 17.
Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said in a press briefing that the F-35 fighters and F-16 fighters and the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner, which was previously in the Red Sea, will be deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
This, she said, will help “defend U.S. interests and safeguard freedom of navigation in the region.”
The increased presence is in response to a “number of recent, alarming events in the Strait of Hormuz,” Ms. Singh said, pointing to two separate incidents earlier this month during which the Iranian navy attempted to illegally seize two oil tankers in waters between Iran and Oman.
One of those ships—the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker TRF Moss—was initially approached by an Iranian naval vessel on July 5 and harassed, according to a statement from U.S. Naval Forces.
However, the Iranian ship left after a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS McFaul, arrived on scene, the Navy said.
Approximately three hours later, the oil tanker Richmond Voyager—which was flying under the flag of the Bahamas—was also approached by an Iranian naval vessel while it was more than 20 miles off the coast of Muscat in Oman and transiting international waters toward the Arabian Sea, officials said.
Iran Opens Fire on Vessel
The Iranian vessel, according to the U.S. Navy, had tried to hail the commercial tanker to stop; at one point firing multiple shots at the vessel from both small arms and crew-served weapons.
No casualties were reported and the Richmond Voyager sustained no significant damage, officials said. However, several rounds hit the ship’s hull near the crew’s living spaces.
Much like the first incident, the Iranian navy vessel finally left after the USS McFaul arrived on the scene, the Navy said.
The Strait of Hormuz separates Iran from the Arabian Peninsula and roughly 21 percent of the world’s oil supply flows through it, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
According to the Navy, the United States and its partners increased the rotation of ships and aircraft patrolling the Strait of Hormuz in May amid an uptick in Iranian merchant vessel seizures.
Increased Attacks on Ships
A-10 attack aircraft have also been patrolling the skies in the area while the McFaul has remained in the Gulf region to bolster protection among shipping lanes.
Despite an increased U.S. presence, Iran has harassed, attacked, or seized roughly 20 international merchant vessels since 2021, and poses a “clear threat” to regional maritime security and the global economy, the Navy said.
Relations between both Washington and Tehran have been deteriorating amid reports that the latter is continuing to bolster its nuclear program and enrich uranium close to weapons-grade levels.
Washington has been trying to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, for months in an effort to prevent Iran from bolstering its nuclear program but has so far not reached a resolution with Tehran.
“In light of this continued threat and in coordination with our partners and allies, the department is increasing our presence and ability to monitor the strait and surrounding waters.,” Ms. Singh said Monday.
“We call upon Iran to immediately cease these destabilizing actions that threaten the free flow of commerce through this strategic waterway, of which the world depends on for more than 1/5 of the world’s oil supply,” she added.