US Central Command hosts international meeting on Gulf maritime options and Iran

UAE among participants at meeting in Florida

epa07740351 Recently confirmed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper participates in his full honors welcome ceremony at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, USA, 25 July 2019.  EPA/SHAWN THEW
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US Central Command hosted an international meeting on Thursday in Tampa, Florida, to discuss Operation Sentinel, which aims to protect ships in the region from Iranian threats and guarantee safe passage.

The meeting at MacDill Air Force Base was attended by the UAE among other countries, including Britain and European nations, The National has learned.

A UAE tanker was among four attacked in Fujairah port last May, and on Friday Iran seized the British oil tanker Stena Impera in Omani waters.

Centcom spokesman Major John Rigsbee told The National the meeting was attended by "senior representatives from allies and partner nations" but declined to name the countries taking part.

He said Operation Sentinel was designed "to enhance maritime domain awareness and promote maritime stability in response to recent events in the Arabian Gulf region".

Newly confirmed US Defence Secretary Mark Esper will visit Centcom next week to discuss Gulf tension.

Mr Esper said on Wednesday that each country would be responsible for protecting its shipping.

“The Brits are escorting their ships and we will escort our ships, and I assume other countries will escort their ships,” he said.

But Mr Esper said that the US, with its superior naval fleets, would "come to the aid of our allies, depending on the situation".

Ryan Bohl, a Mena region analyst at US intelligence company Stratfor, said Operation Sentinel ticked many boxes for the Trump administration.

"It internationalises the problem of maritime security, outsourcing it to regional and other allies,” Mr Bohl said. “But the follow-through is where there are problems."

He said one of the problems was that US was the only country with “the major naval capacity to do most of the heavy lifting".

“The Europeans besides Britain are very hesitant to send anything beyond intelligence assets and diplomatic support,” Mr Bohl said.

But he said that the Iranians would also face new risks with their maritime harassment, especially in the diplomatic area.

Mr Bohl still saw a continued risk of miscalculation.

“If Iranian harassment costs lives, Iranian or anyone else, by mistake then we are moving rapidly into a military escalation phase.”

Centcom’s meeting on Thursday is the third hosted by the US administration since tension started with Iran.