August 4, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. May Put Military Personnel on Commercial Ships to Deter Iran’s Harassment  

August 4, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. May Put Military Personnel on Commercial Ships to Deter Iran’s Harassment  

Latest Developments 

The Pentagon is considering placing armed U.S. Marines and Navy sailors on commercial ships in response to increased Iranian attempts to harass and seize vessels traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, according to an August 3 Associated Press report. The Washington Post reported that the effort has support from senior Biden administration officials but is awaiting final approval. 

Tehran’s continuing aggression at sea comes despite the Biden administration’s recent sanctions relief to Iran and failure to enforce oil sanctions on the clerical regime. This suggests that U.S. goodwill gestures toward Iran are failing to alter Tehran’s policies. 

Expert Analysis 

“This announcement only covers a small portion of the resources the U.S. will be required to expend to confront this malign Iranian behavior. If these U.S. Marines and sailors are embarked on merchant ships, they will have to be backstopped by significant U.S. surveillance, response, and recovery networks. This will not come cheap to U.S. forces.” RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation and FDD Senior Fellow  

“Iran is responding to the Biden administration’s decision to pay the regime’s nuclear extortion racket by heightening its threats in other arenas, forcing a surge in U.S. forces to the region. So not only does Iran now have access to billions more dollars, but the U.S. is being forced to spend more money, divert more resources, and put more U.S. servicemembers at risk to respond to increased threats. This is a completely backward and unsustainable policy.” Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor 

Iran Violates Navigational Rights  

The Strait of Hormuz is a critical chokepoint through which a fifth of the world’s oil moves. In the last two years, Iran has attacked or interfered with the navigational rights of more than a dozen internationally flagged merchant vessels and seized at least six of them.  

On July 20, the Department of Defense announced that it was deploying a portion of the BATAAN Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) to the region to counter Iranian attempts “to threaten the free flow of commerce in the Strait of Hormuz and its surrounding waters.” Earlier that week, the Pentagon deployed F-16 and F-35 fighter jets as well as the Navy destroyer USS Thomas Hudner to add to its combat power in the region. 

Military Surge Follows Relaxing of U.S. Sanctions  

U.S. sanctions relief to Iran has not persuaded the regime to halt its provocations in the Persian Gulf. Last month, U.S. non-enforcement of sanctions targeting Iranian oil exports hit a new high, with Tehran exporting 1.6 million barrels per day. The Biden administration also announced in July that it had authorized Iraq to move Iranian funds into third-country bank accounts, including Oman, to facilitate Iranian transactions. The Biden administration continues to negotiate over the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds held in South Korea and may be enabling Iran’s access to billions of dollars from the International Monetary Fund. 

In June, the U.S. authorized the release of $2.76 billion of frozen Iranian funds held in Iraq to help Tehran pay off its debts. In early July, an Iranian official announced the regime had received access to $10 billion previously rendered inaccessible by U.S. sanctions. On July 11, Iraq announced it would trade its oil for Iranian natural gas — an arrangement that cannot occur without Washington’s approval.  

U.S. Boosts Middle East Combat Power to Deter Iranian Maritime Aggression,” FDD Flash Brief 

In Major Reversal, U.S. Lifts Restraints on Iranian Income From Electricity Sales,” FDD Flash Brief 

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


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