U.S. boosts military presence in the Middle East after Iran seizes tankers

The U.S. military is working with allies to send more ships and aircraft to the Middle East as Iran escalates its seizures of merchant tankers, the National Security Council announced Friday.

“Today, the Department of Defense will be making a series of moves to bolster our defensive posture in the Arabian Gulf,” NSC spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

The announcement comes after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized a Panama-flagged oil tanker called Niovi on May 3, as the ship was traveling through the Strait of Hormuz. The tanker left Dubai, and moved toward a UAE port when a dozen boats from the IRGC navy forced the tanker to head into Iranian waters.

Another incident occurred April 27, when the Advantage Sweet tanker ship belonging to the Marshall Islands was also seized after colliding with an Iranian boat, which injured several crewmembers, according to Iran’s state media.

Over the past two years, the IRGC has attacked or disrupted 15 tankers as tensions between Iran and the U.S. grow over the country’s nuclear program.

Kirby said he will “provide additional details on those reinforcements” within days. Washington will also be increasing is coordination with the International Maritime Security Construct, a group of 11 nations formed to help protect merchant shipping in the region.

The government of Iran has “no justification for these actions,” said Kirby, adding that the U.S. “will not allow foreign or regional powers to jeopardize freedom of navigation in the Middle East waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab.”

Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, head of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, also said in a statement that “Iran’s unwarranted, irresponsible and unlawful seizure and harassment of merchant vessels must stop.”

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