The US military may place armed troops on commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz, a move that would significantly raise tensions between the US and Iran, The Associated Press reported Thursday.
The idea would be to protect commercial vessels from being seized by Iran, but it could result in direct clashes between the US and Iranian militaries. The US has been steadily increasing its military presence in the Persian Gulf since Iran seized two tankers earlier this year, which was provoked by the US seizing a tanker carrying Iranian oil.
Using the pretext of sanctions enforcement, the US Justice Department seized the Greek tanker Suez Rajan in April and forced the ship to head for Texas instead of China as the US intended to steal the 800,000 barrels of Iranian oil it was carrying. But according to recent media reports, US companies are hesitant to discharge the oil because they fear reprisal from Iran in the Persian Gulf, and the Suez Rajan is stuck off the coast of Texas.
Five unnamed US officials speaking to AP said that no final decision on placing armed troops on commercial vessels has been made. They said discussions have been ongoing between the US and Gulf Arab nations.
The potential plan would involve US Marines and Navy sailors providing security for vessels that requested it. The US recently announced the deployment of an Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) to the region, which typically consists of about 2,200 Marines and three amphibious warships.
Placing armed American troops on commercial vessels in the region would be an unprecedented action. According to AP, the US did not even take the step during the Tanker War, which was part of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
The Tanker War led to a one-day major naval battle between the US and Iran in 1988, which resulted in the sinking of most of the Iranian Navy. A few months after the battle, with tensions still high in the region, a US Navy vessel shot down a civilian airliner, Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 290 people onboard.
A similar tragedy happened in 2020 when tensions were again soaring in the region following the US assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani via a drone strike in Baghdad. Iran shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which took off from Tehran, killing all 176 people onboard.