Israel involved in US-led naval mission in Strait of Hormuz — foreign minister
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Israel involved in US-led naval mission in Strait of Hormuz — foreign minister

Israel Katz quoted telling Knesset committee that Israeli participation helping counter Iran, boost ties with Gulf states

Illustrative: A UH-1Y Venom helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz, July 18, 2019. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck/Released)
Illustrative: A UH-1Y Venom helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz, July 18, 2019. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck/Released)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Tuesday that Israel was involved in a US-led naval mission to provide maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran recently seized merchant ships.

Speaking at a closed session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Katz said Israel was assisting the mission with intelligence and other unspecified fields, the Ynet news reported.

He said the mission was in Israel’s strategic interest of countering Iran and boost ties with Gulf countries.

According to the Israeli news site, Katz told the committee that he instructed his ministry to work to include Israel in the mission after a recent visit to Abu Dhabi. The foreign minister was said to have discussed this at the time with an unnamed senior Emirati official, with whom he discussed the “Iranian threat.”

Katz also reportedly praised Britain’s announcement Monday that it would join the mission, making it the only country so far to officially do so.

The report did not specify whether Katz said Israel would send naval vessels to take part in the US-led mission. A report from the Kan public broadcaster last month said that Israel was not expected to send ships, but would provide intelligence.

In this photo released on July 1, 2019, Foreign Minister Israel Katz visits the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Courtesy Katz’s office)

The United States has thus far struggled to piece together an international coalition to protect cargo ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, with allies concerned about being dragged into conflict with Iran.

Tensions have risen in the Gulf since the US decided in May 2018 to withdraw from a landmark accord to limit Iran’s nuclear program and began to reintroduce sanctions.

Announcing its participation in the US-led mission, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it “will draw largely on assets already in the region.” It said the Royal Navy will work alongside the US Navy to escort vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, which sits at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, a shipping channel for one-fifth of all global crude exports.

Two Royal Navy warships are currently in the region, the frigate HMS Montrose and the destroyer HMS Duncan. The Montrose is due to leave for planned repairs later this month.

Britain has been giving UK-flagged vessels in the region a naval escort since the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a British-flagged oil tanker last month. Some Iranian officials suggested the seizure of the Stena Impero was retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar.

In this July 21, 2019 photo, a speedboat of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard moves around a British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero which was seized in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday by the Guard, in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. (Morteza Akhoondi/Mehr News Agency via AP)

But even as ships were seized in the narrow maritime thoroughfare, countries have been reticent about a US plan to send in military escorts.

On Sunday, Australia became the latest ally seeming to give the plan a wide berth.

Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds told the visiting US secretaries of state and defense that their “very serious” and “complex” request would be given “very serious consideration” — but stopped short of offering a full response.

Washington floated the idea of a naval coalition in June, after multiple attacks on ships in the Gulf, which the United States had blamed on Iran — but which Tehran denies.

The plan was to have each country provide a military escort for its ships, with US military providing a security backstop, monitoring the zone of operations and providing command and control.

This June 13, 2019, image released by the US military’s Central Command, shows damage and a suspected mine on the Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman near the coast of Iran. (U.S. Central Command via AP)

Mark Esper, the US defense secretary, said the United States had gotten “various degrees of response,” adding “I think there’ll be some announcements coming out in the coming days.”

Referencing the prospect of European-only cooperation, Esper plaid down a bifurcation of effort.

“I think the purpose remains the same whether it’s an operation conducted under the United States command and control, or conducted by somebody else, a European partnership,” he said.

Paris, Berlin and London plan to coordinate and share information in the Gulf to reinforce maritime security, but without deploying additional assets, according to French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

Germany has distanced itself from a military operation in the Strait of Hormuz, considering it could hinder European efforts to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran.

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