Iran’s defense minister said Thursday that the formation of a US-led flotilla in the Gulf would “increase insecurity” and any Israeli involvement would have “disastrous consequences” for the region.
Tehran and Washington have been locked in a battle of nerves since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year and reimposed sanctions.
Tensions have soared in the region, with drones downed and tankers mysteriously attacked in Gulf waters.
The US and its Gulf allies have accused the Islamic Republic of the tanker attacks, which Tehran denies. In response, the US has been seeking to form a coalition whose mission — dubbed Operation Sentinel — it says is to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf.
“The military coalition that America is seeking to form with the excuse of securing maritime transport will only increase insecurity in the region,” Defense Minister Amir Hatami said in a conference call with counterparts from Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
Reacting to reports of Israeli willingness to join the coalition, he said it would be “highly provocative and can have disastrous consequences for the region.”
In a closed session Tuesday of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Israel was involved in US-led efforts to provide maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway that leads to the Persian Gulf.
Katz said Israel was assisting the mission with intelligence and other unspecified fields, according to the Ynet news site. He stressed the mission was in Israel’s strategic interest of countering Iran and boosting ties with Gulf countries.
The Israeli foreign minister also reportedly praised Britain’s announcement Monday that it would join the mission, making it the only country so far to officially do so.
Besides Britain, which already has warships on protection duty in the Gulf after a UK-flagged tanker was seized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, other European countries have refrained from joining the planned operation for fear it might harm their efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with Iran.
Iran has seized three tankers in the Gulf since last month, including the British-flagged vessel.
The ship seizures came after British Royal Marines helped to impound a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on July 4, alleging it was destined for EU-sanctioned Syria, an accusation Iran denies.
Calling the US the main source of tensions in the region, Hatami, the Iranian foreign minister, called on Gulf countries to enter “constructive talks” to provide maritime security by themselves.
Also Thursday, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard warned that a new war in the region would include Iran’s regional proxy groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, and would result in the “collapse” of Israel.
In comments carried by the semi-official Tasnim news agency, Gen. Hossein Salami said an “[axis of] power has been shaped in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and elsewhere, and the enemy is mindful that any new war may pose a full-blown threat against the Zionist regime and put it in the path to an irreversible collapse.”
“I am confident that today, the Zionists and regional allies are not interested in a war because they know that the geography of such war would be broad, and they know the result [in advance],” he said.
The Islamic Republic funds the armed wings of the Gaza-based terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
Salami said Hezbollah fighters had gained “power and experience” in recent years, and were capable of “resoundingly” defeating Israel in the next war.
Israeli intelligence officials reportedly believe the Hamas group and Tehran have come to an agreement that would see Iranian proxies in Gaza open a front against Israel in the south in the event of fighting breaking out with Hezbollah along its northern border.
The Haaretz daily last week quoted a senior security official as saying the intelligence establishment estimates Hamas and Islamic Jihad will try to force Israel to move its forces and air defense systems to the south at the expense of troops fighting in the north.
The official said that Israel believes Iran has increased its involvement in the Strip in order to turn Hamas into its operational arm against Israel.
On Monday, Channel 12 news reported that Iran offered to significantly increase its monthly financial aid to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in exchange for intelligence on Israeli missile capabilities.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed willingness to raise its monthly financial backing to the terror group to an unprecedented $30 million per month during talks with top Hamas officials in Tehran last month.
In 2018, Hebrew-language media outlets quoted Palestinian sources who said Iran’s payments to Hamas at the time amounted to $70 million per year (less than $6 million per month).
It was not immediately clear if the offer was strictly conditioned on the intelligence provided by the terror groups. The Hamas members said they would convey it to the movement’s leaders in Gaza.