Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

Australia urged to join maritime operation to counter Iranian threat in the Gulf

Britain’s prime minister requested assistance in the Strait of Hormuz from Canberra

Australia has been urged to join the US naval mission in the Gulf. AFP
Australia has been urged to join the US naval mission in the Gulf. AFP

Britain has urged Australia to join the US-led mission to protect commercial ships travelling through the Strait of Hormuz from the threat of Iranian capture.

Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison said he had spoken to his British counterpart Boris Johnson, who requested Canberra’s assistance in escorting ships through the Arabian Gulf.

"I spoke to Boris Johnson last night and indicated to him that we were looking very carefully at our participation in this initiative, which we would see as an international initiative," Mr Morrison told reporters including Australian Associated Press on Thursday.

Britain joined the US naval mission earlier this week, having previously favoured an EU-led task force being set up to protect merchant shipping in the region.

However, none of Britain’s European partners committed to sending reinforcements to the Strait of Hormuz and London despatched HMS Duncan, a Type 45 Destroyer to the Strait to join HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate, in the Strait of Hormuz.

Tensions between Britain and Iran have been rising since British forces impounded an Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 near Gibraltar last month, which it said was carrying oil to Syria in a breach of EU sanctions. Iran seized a commercial tanker flying the British flag in the Strait of Hormuz two weeks after in what was seen by many as retaliation for the Grace 1 seizure.

Around 20 per cent of the world’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz every year.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had encouraged Australia to join in the American mission on Sunday when he met Mr Morrison on Sunday.

US relations with Iran are at an all-time low since President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, of which Britain is still a signatory.

Mr Morrison said the matter was a separate issue to nuclear tensions between the Washington and Tehran.

"This is about safe shipping lanes and ensuring that we can restore at least some stability to what is a very unstable part of the world at the moment," Mr Morrison said.

"We've engaged with both the US and the UK in understanding what role Australia could play here."

However, he was warned by former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd against the move.

Mr Rudd told the Sydney Morning Herald: "The idea Australian forces could in some way end up involved in a gulf crisis involving Iran is something we should take extremely seriously.

"It is uncertain which way American strategy towards Iran is going to go particularly given National Security Adviser John Bolton's longstanding pathology towards the Iranians.

"This region is a tinderbox and fools rush in where angels fear to tread."

Updated: August 8, 2019 12:22 PM

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