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Bahrain to join US-led mission to patrol Gulf waters, US general says

The US-led initiative aims to protect vessels travelling through Gulf waters as regional tensions continue
In July, British Royal Marines seized the Iranian Grace 1 tanker in waters off the coast of Gibraltar (AFP/File photo)

Bahrain will join the United States-led mission to protect vessels travelling in Gulf waters, the US Central Command (Centcom) announced, as tensions between Washington and Tehran continue in the region.

Bahrain has agreed to join the US's International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC), US General Kenneth F. McKenzie said in a statement on Monday.

McKenzie applauded the Gulf country's "leadership and support" for the US-led initiative.

"Threats to the free flow of commerce are an international problem requiring an international solution, and we are pleased that the Kingdom of Bahrain will be a part of that solution," he said.

It was not immediately clear what capacities the Bahrain government would provide to the mission.

Washington has struggled to sell the idea of a joint patrol in Gulf waters since US General Joseph Dunford first announced the proposal in early July, with European leaders expressing scepticism and concern that such patrols may escalate ongoing tensions in the region.

On 5 August, the United Kingdom said it would join the US-led patrols, reversing an earlier call for a European-led mission that received initial backing from a handful of European Union countries.

The US has said the mission aims to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf, particularly through the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil passes.

But Iran has denounced US efforts to set up an international maritime security coalition in the Gulf, insisting that regional countries could protect the strategic waterway and work towards signing a non-aggression pact.

US-Iran standoff

Tanker traffic through the strategic strait recently became the focus of an ongoing standoff between Iran and the US, which has beefed up its military presence in the Gulf since May.

In July, British Royal Marines seized the Iranian Grace 1 tanker in waters off the coast of Gibraltar, on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran, in violation of EU sanctions. 

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Iran has denied the tanker was headed to Syria.

The initial impounding of the Grace 1 tanker sparked a diplomatic row that escalated when Tehran seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf two weeks later.

That tanker, the Stena Impero, is still detained.

Grace 1, now renamed the Adrian Darya-1, left Gibraltar on Sunday night, hours after the British territory rejected a US warrant for the seizure of the tanker, the oil it carries, and almost $1m.

On Monday the  Adrian Darya-1 was sailing for Greece, prompting the US to convey its "strong position" to the Greek government that any efforts to assist the tanker could be considered as providing material support to a US-designated foreign terrorist organisation, which has immigration and potential criminal consequences, Reuters reported. 

The US claims the tanker is controlled through a network of front companies by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, an elite Iranian military unit that is the target of US sanctions and was recently designated a terrorist organisation by Washington.

The incidents feed into wider hostilities between Washington and Tehran that began when President Donald Trump last year pulled out of an international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear programme.

The Trump administration has since reimposed sanctions on several key sectors of the Iranian economy.