July 20, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Boosts Middle East Combat Power to Deter Iranian Maritime Aggression 

July 20, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Boosts Middle East Combat Power to Deter Iranian Maritime Aggression 

Latest Developments 

To counter Iranian attempts “to threaten the free flow of commerce in the Strait of Hormuz and its surrounding waters,” the Department of Defense announced on July 20 the deployment of a portion of the BATAAN Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) to the region. This comes after an announcement earlier this week that the Pentagon is sending additional combat power to the region, including F-16 and F-35 fighter jets and the Navy destroyer USS Thomas Hudner. 

Following a spike in Iranian seizure and harassment of commercial shipping vessels earlier this year, White House spokesperson John Kirby announced in May, “The Department of Defense will be making a series of moves to bolster our defensive posture in the Arabian Gulf.” At the time, the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet signaled its intent to work with regional partners to increase the rotational presence of ships and aircraft patrolling in and near the Strait of Hormuz — a critical chokepoint through which a fifth of the world’s oil moves.  

Expert Analysis 

“These significant new rotational deployments are part of the military buildup that the Department of Defense started in May in response to Iranian maritime aggression. It is noteworthy that Iranian naval forces seeking to illicitly seize commercial vessels tend to think twice when the U.S. military shows up.”Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power 

“Working with regional partners to increase the number of patrol assets and share intelligence can reduce Iran’s ability to successfully seize or harass vessels in the Gulf.” — Ryan Brobst, FDD Senior Research Analyst  

Iran’s Belligerence in International Waters 

Over the past two years, Iran has attacked or interfered with the navigational rights of 18 internationally flagged merchant vessels and seized at least six. Since May, U.S. Central Command has used P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned surface vessels, A-10 aircraft, naval destroyers, and mine sweepers to deter Iranian maritime aggression. 

On July 5, U.S. forces prevented the Iranian Navy from seizing two different commercial tankers. In one of those incidents, the Iranian crew repeatedly fired on the Bahamian-flagged Richmond Voyager oil tanker after hailing the commercial vessel to stop. The Iranian navy vessel departed when the USS McFaul arrived.  

On June 5, the McFaul and the UK Royal Navy frigate HMS Lancaster prevented Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fast attack vessels from seizing a cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz. On May 3, Iranian forces seized the empty, Panamanian-flagged tanker Niovi in the Strait of Hormuz, surrounding it with speedboats and diverting it to Iranian territorial waters. Six days earlier, Iranian commandos descended onto the deck of the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker Advantage Sweet from a helicopter and took control of the vessel. 

Related Analysis 

Securing Contested Waters: A Conversation with NAVCENT Commander Vice Adm. Cooper,” FDD Event 

Iran Hijacking Attempt Thwarted by U.S. and British Navies,” FDD Flash Brief 

U.S. Navy Increases Patrols in Strait of Hormuz,” FDD Flash Brief 

Add Israel to the Combined Maritime Forces and its Red Sea Task Force,” by Bradley Bowman and Ryan Brobst 


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy