In a move that underscores America's commitment to her commercial interests and her citizens, the U.S. Navy announced that battleships will begin to accompany U.S. flagged vessels as they travel the Strait of Hormuz. The move comes on the heels of Iran seizing a cargo ship.
The Obama administration is very carefully monitoring Iran's takeover of the ship, as it involved a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel. The Marshall Islands and the United States have a longstanding security agreement, and officials said Thursday the two nations are in close contact over the incident.
In a clear response to that incident a defense department official said the U.S. Navy will now accompany all U.S.-flagged ships going through the area. The significant move is the latest development in a high-stakes chess match in the region, with the Iran nuclear talks continuing to unfold in the background.
Technically, the Navy makes a distinction between accompanying ships and escorting them.
Officials said on the record that the Navy won't technically escort these ships but will let them know in advance that they will monitor the situation as they travel through the narrow Strait from the Persian Gulf toward the Arabian Sea.
Bu the Navy has already dispatched a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Farragut, to the region and it seems as though that action alone is tantamount to an escort, even if not officially.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday the destroyer is just "keeping an eye on things," and in close enough proximity to the seized ship that they "will be able to respond if a response is required". The language is likely purposefully vague, in order not to trouble the ongoing nuclear negotiations. Rumor in Washington is the Obama administration is deeply concerned about the seized vessel and would likely take a more than firm stand should such an action happen to U.S. flagged ships.
When pressed on what kind of incident would elicit a U.S. Navy response, he was vague, saying: "These [U.S. Navy] assets give commanders options." He claimed not to know "what the possibilities are," and the U.S. government is "in discussions with the Marshall Islands on the way ahead."
It is likely, however, the latest moves have got the attention of Iran. U.S. forces in the region are capable of a wide range of deadly response options should they feel U.S. interests are threatened.