Bahrain becomes first Gulf country to join US-led maritime coalition

Washington is seeking to counter Iranian threats to shipping in the region

Marines onboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26) watch nearby Iranian fast inland attack craft, as it transits the Strait of Hormuz, off Oman, in this undated handout picture released by U.S. Navy on August 12, 2019. Adam Dublinske/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS- THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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Bahrain announced on Monday that it will join a US-led maritime coalition to counter Iranian threats to freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa revealed the decision during a meeting in Manama with the head of the US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad was also present as the king hosted Gen McKenzie at Al Safriya Palace on Monday morning, the Bahraini News Agency reported.

“The king confirmed the Kingdom of Bahrain’s participation in the joint effort to preserve the safety of international maritime navigation and secure international corridors for trade and energy in the region,” BNA said.

Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, is the first Arabian Gulf country to officially join the coalition.

The US initiative was launched after several attacks on tankers in the region’s waters since May, in what Washington sees as a co-ordinated effort by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to threaten freedom of navigation near the Strait of Hormuz.

Britain announced its participation earlier this month. Australia and South Korea are leaning towards joining, while France and Germany have declined to take part.

Some Middle Eastern countries are still in talks with the United States about joining the operation, known as Programme Sentinel. One important regional ally is seeking more information on the nature of deployments, ports for naval presence and the mandate, sources told The National.

Gen McKenzie visited Bahrain as part of larger Gulf tour. He met defence officials in Oman at the weekend.

King Hamad referred to the “steadily growing military and defence co-operation” with the United States during his meeting with Gen McKenzie, BNA reported.

Bahrain-US ties have strengthened under the Trump administration. Manama was the venue for the “peace for prosperity” conference in June at which the US unveiled the economic component of its plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The kingdom will also host a maritime security meeting later this year, Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said during a visit to Washington last month.