Recent news about the United States preparing to deploy Marines and Navy personnel aboard commercial tankers transiting the Gulf comes as part of efforts to deter Iran from seizing ships in the region.

The move aims to provide an additional layer of protection to tankers, which transport around a fifth of the world’s oil through the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz.

The escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran have brought the Gulf region to the brink of crisis, impacting maritime trade and posing a risk of military confrontations. In this article, we will delve into the background of the conflict that led to this situation and explore the current standing of the crisis.

Strait of Hormuz: A Vital Maritime Chokepoint

The Persian Gulf has been a focal point of friction between the United States and Iran for several decades. In 1987, during the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. launched Operation Earnest Will to protect U.S.-allied vessels in the area. The situation escalated further in April 1988 when U.S. forces engaged in Operation Praying Mantis, which resulted in the sinking or severe damage of half of Iran’s operational fleet.

Strait of Hormuz
Satellite image of Strait of Hormuz

The Strait of Hormuz, a critical chokepoint in the maritime world, witnesses approximately 30 percent of the world’s seaborne-traded crude oil passing through it daily. This narrow channel that connects the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, effectively separating Iran from the Arabian Peninsula, falls mainly under the purview of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ navy, which has repeatedly threatened to block the strait in response to foreign pressure. U.S. presence in the region and perceived provocative actions by both U.S. and Iranian naval forces have contributed to tense encounters at sea.

The U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and the subsequent reimposition of sanctions intensified the friction between the two countries. This led to a series of incidents involving damage, harassment, and seizure of oil tankers in the Gulf, raising the risk of unintended military confrontations.

The Recent Crisis in the Strait of Hormuz

The recent crisis in the Strait of Hormuz further escalated tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. has been increasing its military presence in the region in response to Iran’s provocative actions. Last month, the U.S. announced plans to deploy a destroyer, F-35, and F-16 warplanes, along with an Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit consisting of around 3,000 personnel.