Oman voices concern over international military presence in Strait of Hormuz

US and other nations launched naval patrols after suspected Iranian attacks on shipping

Oman's Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah attends a panel discussion during the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 15, 2020. The 2020 edition of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) takes place from February 14 to 16, 2020. / AFP / Thomas KIENZLE
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The risk of a military confrontation is higher in the Strait of Hormuz than anywhere else in the region, partly because of the number of foreign navy ships guarding it, Oman's Minister for Foreign Affairs said.

The strait between Iran and Oman, 33 kilometres wide at its narrowest point, is the passage for about 30 per cent of all crude and other oil products traded by sea.

Friction between Iran and the West led nations to send task forces to protect shipping there.

Washington has blamed Tehran for attacks on international merchant vessels in or near the area, which Iran denies.

"There are a lot of military ships in the Hormuz and our concern is there could be a mistake," Yusuf bin Alawi, Oman's Minister for Foreign Affairs, said at the Munich Security Conference at the weekend.

Oman is working to reduce tension in the Gulf and sees prospects of talks between Iran and the US, Mr bin Alawi said.

“We are in touch with the US and Iran. We feel that there is a possibility of dialogue between them,” he told the state-run Oman News Agency.

“We don’t expect military military confrontation in the region at the moment.”

Tehran has threatened reprisals for the January 3 killing of its top military commander, Qassem Suleimani, in a US drone strike, although regional analysts have said is unlikely to involve an intervention in the strait.

Iran cannot legally close the waterway because part of it is in Omani territorial waters.

But ships that sail through are close to Iranian waters and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' navy.

Washington, which in 2018 pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions on it, is leading a naval mission to protect oil tankers and cargo ships in the waterway.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Britain and Australia have joined the US in Operation Sentinel, while France is leading a separate European mission.

Japan, Russia, South Korea and China have also sent ships to the region.

There have been periodic confrontations between the Revolutionary Guard and the US military in the Gulf in recent years.

US officials have said closing the Strait of Hormuz would be crossing a "red line" and America would take action to reopen it.

"The only thing for Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar is the Strait of Hormuz, and if it is blocked we will all be in trouble so that's why it is important to maintain the safeguard of maritime navigation," the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister, Sheikh Ahmad Al Sabah, said in Munich.