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Israel to join US-led mission in Gulf

Warship belonging to British Navy, allegedly sent to the Strait of Hormuz is seen passing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey on July 12, 2019. [Mehmet Eser/Anadolu Agency]
Warship belonging to British Navy, allegedly sent to the Strait of Hormuz is seen passing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey on 12 July 2019. [Mehmet Eser/Anadolu Agency]

Israel will join the US-led mission to secure shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, a move likely to provoke Iranian outrage.

The revelation was disclosed yesterday by Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yisrael Katz, during a session of the Israeli Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, the vast majority of which was held behind closed doors. The “rare meeting” was held with the Knesset in recess ahead of Israel’s general election, which is slated for 17 September.

Katz told the committee that he had instructed Israel’s Foreign Ministry to work to include Tel Aviv in the US-led mission after a recent visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

There Katz met with Emirati officials to discuss developing ties between Israel and the UAE in technology, energy, agriculture and water management, as well as “the need to deal with the threat of a nuclear Iran”. It was against this backdrop that the foreign minister claimed to have discussed Israel’s joining of the operation with an unnamed senior Emirati official.

It is not yet clear whether Israel will send naval vessels to take part in the US-led mission – dubbed “Operation Sentinel” – or whether it will assist by providing intelligence, as suggested by a report from Israel’s public broadcaster Kan last month.

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Katz reportedly also praised the UK’s announcement this week that it would join the operation, which he said was of “great importance”. The UK Ministry of Defence on Monday said it “will draw largely on assets already in the region” to assist the mission, pointing to two Royal Navy ships already stationed in the Strait of Hormuz which have so far escorted 47 ships through the narrow waterway.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz in New York, US on 9 April 2019 [noa grayevsky/Getty Images for RSL Management Corpnoa]

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz in New York, US on 9 April 2019 [Noa grayevsky/Getty Images for RSL Management Corpnoa]

A day after the UK declared it would assist the US, China’s Ambassador to the UAE, Ni Jian, said that his country might also provide assistance. “We are studying the US proposal on Gulf escort arrangements,” the envoy said, adding that “if there happens to be a very unsafe situation we will consider having our navy escort our commercial vessels”.

Thus far the US has struggled to rally a coalition to assist its mission in the Strait, with two crucial US allies – Germany and Japan – refusing to send ships to the region. Meanwhile Australia has said it is giving “very serious consideration” to the US’ request to join, but has thus far stopped short of agreeing to the mission.

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The US’ attempt to bring together a coalition has angered Iran, which sees the Strait of Hormuz – a narrow stretch of water between Iran and the UAE – as its backyard and sphere of influence.

Speaking yesterday in a live broadcast on Iranian state TV, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that his country’s policy adhered to “a strait for a strait”, stressing that “it can’t be that the Strait of Hormuz is free for you and the Strait of Gibraltar is not free for us”.

Last month, a vessel reportedly carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European Union (EU) sanctions was seized by the British Royal Navy as it passed through the Strait of Gibraltar, another vital shipping lane which links the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean.

“Peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani added, appearing to caution against any US-led initiatives in the Gulf.

News of Israel joining the coalition will likely provoke further Iranian indignation, with Rouhani saying this morning that any attack on Iran’s sovereignty at sea, air or land will be dealt with by force. The president also slammed regional Gulf powers for “relying” on Israel, a policy he stressed was a “mistake” given Israel’s inability to guarantee either its own or Gulf states’ security.

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