Iraq rejects Israeli participation in US-led naval mission in Gulf

Mohammed al-Hakim says Arab states don’t need foreign assistance to secure strait amid Iranian ship seizures

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Alhakim attends a meeting with his Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad, Iraq, August 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Alhakim attends a meeting with his Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad, Iraq, August 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Iraq’s foreign minister on Monday rejected international assistance — particularly from Israel — in securing the Persian Gulf, saying Arab states were capable of ensuring the safe passage of vessels without foreign help.

The comment came after Foreign Minister Israel Katz reportedly said Israel was assisting US-led efforts to boost security around the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Mohammed al-Hakim tweeted Monday that regional states were capable of securing the strategic waterway themselves and stressed that Israel’s participation in such a mission was unacceptable.

“Iraq rejects the participation of the Zionist entity’s forces in any military force to ensure the secure passage of ships in the Arab Gulf. All of the Arab Gulf states are able to ensure the safe passage of ships in the Gulf,” al-Hakim said.

“Iraq seeks to decrease tensions in our region through quiet negotiations. The existence of Western forces in the region will raise tensions,” he added.

Al-Hakim’s tweet came in response to efforts by the Trump administration to set up a US-led naval security mission in the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran’s recent seizures of vessels has raised tensions with the West.

The US wants an international coalition to monitor and potentially escort commercial ships there. Britain said last week it would join the mission; no other US allies have committed themselves so far.

It’s not clear if Israel has been asked to participate.

Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

Last week, the Ynet news site reported Katz had told a closed session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel was involved in the US-led efforts.

Katz said Israel was assisting the mission to secure the crucial waterway with intelligence and in other unspecified fields. He stressed the mission was in Israel’s strategic interest of countering Iran and boosting ties with Gulf countries.

On Sunday, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s navy, which since last month has three tankers in the Gulf, warned that “any illegitimate presence by the Zionists in the waters of the Persian Gulf could spark a war.”

In an interview with the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen television station in Lebanon, Alireza Tangsiri warned that “whenever our commanders wish so, they are able to detain any ship, even if it is accompanied by American and British forces.”

His comments came after Iran’s defense minister said last week that the formation of a US-led flotilla would “increase insecurity” and any Israeli involvement would have “disastrous consequences” for the region.

In this file photo taken on April 30, 2019, Iranian soldiers take part in the ‘National Persian Gulf Day’ in the Strait of Hormuz. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

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 — allegation that 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.

Besides Britain, which already has warships on protection duty in the Gulf after a UK-flagged tanker was seized by Iran’s 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.

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.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed