The US military is considering putting armed personnel on commercial ships travelling through the Strait of Hormuz in what would be an unheard of action aimed at stopping Iran from seizing and harassing civilian vessels, four American officials told the Associated Press on Thursday.
Washington did not take such a step during the so-called Tanker War, which culminated with the US Navy and Iran fighting a one-day naval battle in 1988 that was America's largest since the Second World War.
While officials offered few details of the plan, it comes as thousands of marines and sailors on both the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan and the USS Carter Hall, a landing ship, proceed towards the Arabian Gulf.
Those marines and sailors could provide the backbone for any armed guard mission in the strait, through which 20 per cent of all the world’s crude oil passes.
Iran's mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the AP about the US proposal.
Four US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposal, acknowledged its broad details.
The officials stressed no final decision had been made and that discussions continue between US military officials and America's Gulf Arab allies in the region.
Officials said the marines and sailors would provide the security only at the request of the ships involved.
The Bataan and Carter Hall left Norfolk, Virginia, on July 10 on a mission the Pentagon described as being “in response to recent attempts by Iran to threaten the free flow of commerce in the Strait of Hormuz and its surrounding waters”.
The Bataan passed through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea last week on its way to the Middle East.
Already, the US has sent A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack planes, F-16 and F-35 fighters, as well as the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner to the region due to Iran’s actions at sea.
The deployment has captured Iran's attention, with its chief diplomat telling neighbouring nations that the region does not need “foreigners” providing security.
On Wednesday, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched a surprise military drill on disputed islands in the Arabian Gulf, with swarms of small fast boats, paratroopers and missile units taking part.
The renewed hostilities come as Iran now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels after the collapse of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The US also has pursued ships around the world believed to be carrying sanctioned Iranian oil. Oil industry worries over another seizure by Iran has left a ship allegedly carrying Iranian oil stranded off Texas as no company has yet to unload it.