Iran’s maritime activity has been “cautious and circumspect” following the establishment of a US-led naval coalition that includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, according to a top American navy commander.
Iran’s malign behavior at sea has been deterred by the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) coalition, said Vice Admiral Samuel Paparo, commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command, at a conference in Bahrain on Friday.
“We have achieved an uneasy deterrence,” said Paparo, who is also commander of the US 5th Fleet, during a panel on defense diplomacy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Manama Dialogue.
IMSC was set up last year following attacks on commercial shipping vessels widely attributed to Iran. Its member states include Australia, Albania, Bahrain, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK, and the United States.
The coalition aims to protect merchant ships and ensure freedom of maritime navigation and international trade in the Strait of Hormuz, Bab al-Mandab, Sea of Oman, and the Arabian Gulf.
“By occupying the maritime commons, we put ourselves - the coalition - in a condition where we can see and expose malign behavior,” said Paparo, adding that the coalition has not witnessed any change in behavior in the maritime domain from Iranian forces in the past six months.
While Iran may be shying away from conflict in the Arabian Gulf, its proxy network in Iraq has increased its actions on land against US forces in the country.
Earlier this month, American media reported that the US government would withdraw some of its staff from the embassy in Baghdad as Iranian-backed militia attacks on US targets increased.
The reduction of American personnel also comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of the US-ordered killing in Baghdad of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani on January 3.
In March, two US servicemen and a British soldier were killed in rocket attacks on a coalition base in Iraq.
In September, a roadside bomb targeted a British embassy convoy in Baghdad. There were no injuries and no group claimed responsibility for the attack.
British General Sir Nicholas Carter, chief of the UK’s defense staff, said that combatting Iran’s proxy networks – present in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen among other countries in the Middle East – requires discrediting the “pervasive and nefarious narratives that their networks depend upon.”
“I think you have to find a way of undermining [the narratives],” said Carter during the panel, adding that the proxy networks also have to be precisely targeted.