The Arab Weekly:

John C.K. Daly is a Washington-based specialist on Russian and post-Soviet affairs.

Attacks on tankers plying the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s oil tankers pass, have been attributed by the Trump administration to Iranian naval units, which is ratcheting up its already bellicose rhetoric against Tehran as the Pentagon increases its military presence around Iran.

In seeking potential allies to forestall possible Western naval assaults, Iran is looking for solidarity from another country under heavy sanctions from the West: Russia.

Iranian Navy Commander Rear-Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, who was in St. Petersburg July 29 for Russia’s Navy Day commemorations, noted that Russia and Iran had signed a naval cooperation agreement and that the two countries’ navies would have joint manoeuvres in the Arabian Gulf, a significant development given rising tensions there.

This would not be the first bilateral naval cooperation between Iran and Russia. Beginning in 2015 Iran and Russia have had joint naval drills in the Caspian. The Caspian, however, is an inland sea shared by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan and is covered by a joint agreement between them prohibiting the presence of foreign military forces there.

In contrast, the Strait of Hormuz, connecting the Arabian Gulf to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, is an international waterway recognised under maritime law as open to ships from all nations.

In seeking to gather a naval coalition to deploy there, ostensibly to protect merchant shipping, the US government is “flying the flag” to increase diplomatic pressure on Iran and to isolate it. The Trump administration is pressuring allies, including Germany, France, Belgium, Norway, Japan, South Korea and Australia, to contribute maritime forces to this coalition. The British government has announced that it was formally joining the US Operation Sentinel maritime mission to protect commercial shipping in the Gulf.

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