Australia to join US-led mission in Strait of Hormuz

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Australia announced Wednesday morning local time that it will join the U.S.-led mission to police the Strait of Hormuz to ensure freedom of navigation for international vessels.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country would deploy a maritime surveillance aircraft to the region by the end of the year, an frigate in January for six months and military personnel to the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters in Bahrain.

{mosads}The move will aid the U.S.-launched the campaign, dubbed Operation Sentinel, which seeks to ensure ships can sail through the strategic strait freely after a series of Iranian seizures of oil tankers.

“The Government has been concerned with incidents involving shipping in the Strait of Hormuz over the past few months,” Morrison said in a statement. “This destabilising behaviour is a threat to Australian interests in the region.”

“Freedom of navigation through international waters is a fundamental right of all states under international law. All states have a right to expect safe passage of their maritime trade consistent with international law. It is in Australia’s interest to work with international partners to uphold these rights,” he added.

The seizures in the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes about a third of all oil traded by sea, have emerged as a key concern for Washington and ratcheted up already high tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Australia joins the United Kingdom, which announced earlier this month it was joining the campaign. The U.S. is seeking to attract other allies to join the coalition, though Germany has already declined.

Iran, which oversees security in the strategic waterway, has hinted it will not back down in the face of the operation, saying it will no longer tolerate maritime offenses in the region.

“Iran used to forgo some maritime offenses in … [the] Gulf but will never close [its] eyes anymore,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at a televised news conference this month.

Besides the tanker seizures, tensions have skyrocketed in the region over Iran’s declaration that it has exceeded the limits placed on its uranium enrichment by an Obama-era nuclear pact, leading European leaders to scramble to persuade Tehran to curtail its nuclear production.

President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal last year, though international observers say Iran had remained within the agreement’s limits until recently.

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