Iranian warship enters Red Sea as tensions rise
Iran dispatched a naval frigate to the Red Sea amid an escalating standoff between Western nations and Tehran-backed militants that has seen maritime traffic attacked by drones, missiles and speedboats.
Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported Monday that the warship Alborz crossed the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and entered the busy waterway, where a U.S.-led coalition is already stationed. According to Iranian officials, the 51-year-old vessel, originally sold to the shah of Iran by Britain, will supervise naval missions in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
The move adds Iran’s military into an increasingly volatile crisis unfolding in the Red Sea, where tensions have soared in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
Houthi rebels from Yemen — who, along with Gaza-based Hamas, form part of the Iranian-backed “axis of resistance” against Israel — started targeting commercial vessels traversing the Red Sea in December. The group insists it aims only to disrupt tankers and cargo liners linked to Israel, but dozens of civilian vessels have been put at risk.
Over the weekend, the United States Navy reported it destroyed three boats carrying Houthi fighters in what it said was a hijacking attempt against a container ship, the Maersk Hangzhou, operating in the region. The incident marked the second attack against the vessel in the space of just 24 hours.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson on Tuesday called the attacks “unacceptable” and “destabilizing."
"Planning is underway for a range of scenarios. No decisions have been made and we will continue to pursue all potential routes," they said. On Monday, U.K. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps hinted in an op-ed published in the Telegraph that London was ready to launch air strikes against the Houthis.
In December, the U.S. announced an international security effort dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian to police the Red Sea. The U.K. deployed a naval destroyer as part of the coalition, and Denmark said Friday it would send a frigate to join the operation.
The EU agreed to join the U.S. effort but countries such as France and Spain announced their military vessels in the region would remain under national control.
“We're keeping a French command in this affair and we're continuing to act in self-defense,” French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu told French TV on Tuesday.
The French Languedoc FREMM multipurpose frigate is currently in the region, a French official said.Squeezing global trade
The Red Sea is a vital thoroughfare for shipborne cargo and energy exports.
Tankers carrying up to 10 percent of the world’s oil pass through its waters. The price of Brent crude rose by 2 percent to $78.58 a barrel on Tuesday in the wake of last weekend’s attacks. BP has already said it will reroute its vessels to avoid the region, which likely means longer journey times and higher costs for consumers.
Shipping companies are diverting their vessels around Africa instead of braving the Red Sea, but so far the economic impact is limited, “although clearly not zero,” wrote UBS Wealth Management chief global economist Paul Donovan.
Maersk, the world’s largest shipper, on Sunday stopped sending its vessels through the Red Sea after the Maersk Hangzhou was hit by a missile. Hours later the same ship was attacked by Houthi boats.
The company said on Tuesday that it would "pause all transits through the Red Sea / Gulf of Aden until further notice," adding: "In cases where it makes most sense for our customers, vessels will be rerouted and continue their journey around the Cape of Good Hope."
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