WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) – Iran has increased its attacks on commercial shipping in recent months and the Pentagon will begin to bolster defensive posture in the region on Friday, White House spokesperson John Kirby said.
In the past two years, Iran has harassed, attacked or interfered with the navigational rights of 15 internationally flagged commercial vessels, Kirby said.
“Today, the Department of Defense will be making a series of moves to bolster our defensive posture in the Persian Gulf,” Kirby told reporters in a briefing.
Kirby said U.S Central Command will provide details in coming days. The U.S. military did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The move comes after Iran seized a second oil tanker in a week in the Persian Gulf waters earlier this month, and the State Department called for its release in the latest escalation in a series of actions against commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf waters since 2019.
Iran Still Smuggling Weapons, Narcotics to Yemen, U.S. Envoy Says
The Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy said on May 3 the Panama-flagged oil tanker Niovi was seized by Iran‘s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy while passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The incident came days after Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman.
Kirby said the U.S. strongly condemns actions that threaten and interfere with commercial shipping, and will not allow foreign powers to jeopardize navigating Middle East waterways.
“We have seen repeated Iranian threats, armed seizures and attacks against commercial shippers who are exercising their navigational rights and freedoms in international waterways,” he said.
About a fifth of the world’s crude oil and oil products passes through the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point between Iran and Oman, according to data from analytics firm Vortexa.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Phil Stewart; Editing by Daniel Wallis)