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Israel involved in US-led naval mission in Strait of Hormuz

Israel Katz quoted telling Knesset committee that Israeli participation helping counter Iran, boost ties with Gulf states

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Tuesday that Israel was involved in a US-led naval mission to provide maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran had recently seized merchant ships.

Speaking at a closed session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Katz said Israel was assisting the mission with intelligence and other unspecified fields, the Ynet news reported.

He said the mission was in Israel’s strategic interest of countering Iran and boost ties with Gulf countries.

According to the Israeli news site, Katz told the committee that he instructed his ministry to work to include Israel in the mission after a recent visit to Abu Dhabi. The foreign minister was said to have discussed this at the time with an unnamed senior Emirati official, with whom he discussed the “Iranian threat.”

Katz also reportedly praised Britain’s announcement Monday that it would join the mission, making it the only country so far to officially do so.

The report did not specify whether Katz said Israel would send naval vessels to take part in the US-led mission. A report from the Kan public broadcaster last month said that Israel was not expected to send ships, but would provide intelligence.

The United States has thus far struggled to piece together an international coalition to protect cargo ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, with allies concerned about being dragged into conflict with Iran.

Tensions have risen in the Gulf since the US decided in May 2018 to withdraw from a landmark accord to limit Iran’s nuclear program and began to reintroduce sanctions.

Announcing its participation in the US-led mission, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it “will draw largely on assets already in the region.” It said the Royal Navy will work alongside the US Navy to escort vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, which sits at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, a shipping channel for one-fifth of all global crude exports.

Two Royal Navy warships are currently in the region, the frigate HMS Montrose and the destroyer HMS Duncan. The Montrose is due to leave for planned repairs later this month.

Britain has been giving UK-flagged vessels in the region a naval escort since the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a British-flagged oil tanker last month. Some Iranian officials suggested the seizure of the Stena Impero was retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar.

But even as ships were seized in the narrow maritime thoroughfare, countries have been reticent about a US plan to send in military escorts.

On Sunday, Australia became the latest ally seeming to give the plan a wide berth.

Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds told the visiting US secretaries of state and defense that their “very serious” and “complex” request would be given “very serious consideration” — but stopped short of offering a full response.

Washington floated the idea of a naval coalition in June, after multiple attacks on ships in the Gulf, which the United States had blamed on Iran — but which Tehran denies.

The plan was to have each country provide a military escort for its ships, with US military providing a security backstop, monitoring the zone of operations and providing command and control.

Mark Esper, the US defense secretary, said the United States had gotten “various degrees of response,” adding “I think there’ll be some announcements coming out in the coming days.”

Referencing the prospect of European-only cooperation, Esper plaid down a bifurcation of effort.

“I think the purpose remains the same whether it’s an operation conducted under the United States command and control, or conducted by somebody else, a European partnership,” he said.

Paris, Berlin and London plan to coordinate and share information in the Gulf to reinforce maritime security, but without deploying additional assets, according to French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

Germany has distanced itself from a military operation in the Strait of Hormuz, considering it could hinder European efforts to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran.


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