x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

US pledges Hormuz defence

Navy commanders in Abu Dhabi discuss Iran, the terrorism threat to commercial shipping and a combined GCC navy.

US Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff (second left), Commander of the US 5th Fleet, sits with Rear Admiral Ahmed Mohammed al-Sabab al Tenaji (left), commander of the UAE Navy, at a Gulf Naval Commander meeting in Abu Dhabi  today.
US Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff (second left), Commander of the US 5th Fleet, sits with Rear Admiral Ahmed Mohammed al-Sabab al Tenaji (left), commander of the UAE Navy, at a Gulf Naval Commander meeting in Abu Dhabi today.

ABU DHABI // Iran, the threat of terrorism to commercial shipping and the merits of a combined GCC navy were among issues raised at a meeting of regional navy commanders in Abu Dhabi today. Plans were discussed for much greater integration of GCC forces, with several delegates raising the possibility of a single navy to improve security in the Gulf. Vice Adml Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of the US Navy's 5th Fleet, dismissed recent statements by the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards that Tehran would block shipments through the Gulf if it was attacked. Iran "is saying to the world that nearly 40 per cent of the oil and a significant amount of natural gas that flows through the Strait [of Hormuz] is now held hostage by a single country", he said. "I believe that Iran will not attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz. We will not allow them to close the Strait of Hormuz - I cannot say it any more clearly than that." Vice Adml Cosgriff, who is due to retire shortly, also said he was worried about the possibility of a renegade Iranian unit sparking an international incident by launching an attack in the waterway. "I'm concerned about the ability of that country to control its own armed forces, and I think the region should be concerned - indeed I know they are. "That could result in something occurring; there is not a captain or admiral in the United States Navy who doesn't know we've buried 20 sailors to successful small boat attacks against our ships, [and] there is not a captain or an admiral in the US Navy who is not going to be fully ready to defend his or her ship." Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Rear Adml Mohammed al Tenaji, the commander of the UAE Navy, said he did not think Iran would try to block commercial shipping. "I don't believe they will carry out this threat," he said. "Iran has the same interest in trade as other countries." During a speech to the conference, Rear Adml Tenaji said the UAE and its neighbours faced a growing threat from terrorism, as well as an increase in piracy and smuggling, that meant they had to radically change the way their navies operated. "The current threats to maritime security do not recognise political borders, but when we combine our efforts with the international community I am sure we can achieve our objectives in deterring any threats," he said. "Geography has placed the UAE and GCC countries in the vicinity of many organisations that are notorious for their hostility, not to mention ill-wishing fanatical or radical groups or minorities which employ terrorism to achieve their ends." He added that piracy had become so sophisticated and aggressive in its tactics, that it "is posing a threat that is causing nightmares for all countries". "We have to combine our efforts and operations in order to put an end to such threats," he said. "We are living in an area that is fraught with crisis." He suggested that GCC states combine their navies to counter threats, although he said that would require a huge amount of political will. "It is clear that the challenges facing our navies are larger than before and more complicated, [and] small navies have limited potential at present to deal with all tasks," he said. "Why don't we develop these national maritime duties to include all the GCC states? Why don't we unify all our own forces, and co-operate with other international forces?" Maj Gen Ahmed Yousef al Mulla, the commander of the Kuwait's navy, backed the call. He said existing forces were equipped and trained to deal with traditional surface warfare, and had a limited ability to provide air defence, amphibious landings, or humanitarian assistance. "Today's force structure is not well adapted to the rapid changes in the maritime environment," he said. "We need to develop a force that can deal with a multi-faced threat. International tension with Iran should give the GCC naval forces a clue to the... capabilities that will be required, [and] we need to be able to participate in counter terrorism." He said that rather than GCC states purchasing the same kind of ships and equipment, they could reduce spending and have more effective naval forces by co-ordinating with each other and sharing the burden of maritime defence. "No country can single-handedly achieve the goals of various operations," he said. "We need to integrate with regional organisations as a GCC collective maritime force. This will require leadership and courage, to break previously held perceptions and set a new direction." @email:gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae