A Marshall Islands-flagged container ship, the M/V Maersk Tigris, was fired upon and intercepted by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy in the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday. The Pentagon stated that the IRGC Navy boarded the ship after firing warning shots across its bridge. The ship is now being monitored by maritime patrol aircraft and the U.S. Navy has dispatched the destroyer USS Farragut. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren was quoted as saying, “At first appearance it does seem to be provocative behavior, but again we don’t have all the facts yet.” Col. Warren called the firing upon the ship “inappropriate.” The incident occurred as the U.S. Senate convened to debate the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which would allow congressional review of any potential deal reached with Iran over its nuclear program.
The United States has in recent weeks repeatedly stressed the necessity of ensuring the free navigation of global waterways. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last Tuesday that the U.S. had dispatched an aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea “to maintain freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea...this is a clear statement about our commitment to ensuring the free flow of commerce in this important region of the world.” The Strait of Hormuz is “the world’s most important chokepoint,” with 17 million barrels per day, approximately 30% of the world’s seaborne-traded oil, passing through it in 2013. It is considered an “internationally recognized maritime route.” Maersk, a Denmark-based global shipping conglomerate, is the world’s largest shipping container company, accounting for the transport of about 15% of the world’s containers. In 2011, Maersk “received almost half the US military’s $1.82 billion in contracts…to ship supplies and equipment around the globe, most of it tied to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Defense Department data.”
According to international maritime law, “the flag state…has the obligation to regulate and ensure the safe and lawful operation of a vessel flying its flag” – in this instance, it would refer to the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands and the U.S. signed a Compact of Free Association in 1983 by which the U.S. “has full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands.” Denmark, where Maersk is based, is a NATO ally.
Hezbollah has been taking taking advantage of the power vacuum in Syria to try and create a “deterrent balance” against Israel, according to an analysis written by Avi Issacharoff and published Monday in The Times of Israel.
Hezbollah has been using Druze, Palestinians and, of course, Assad’s own troops to strike at Israeli targets. For more than a year, this has been one front where Hezbollah has been trying to take advantage of the power vacuum in the Syrian area in order to create a deterrent balance against Israel.
Even after the reported Israeli weekend attack on targets in the Qalamun Mountains, it seemed that Hezbollah would try to mount a limited response, not one that might lead to a large-scale, violent confrontation. Hezbollah has no interest in a conflict of that kind, but it wants to make it clear to Israel that there is a price to pay for what it views as crossing red lines.
Media outlets identified with Hezbollah, such as Al Mayadeen, claimed there was a further Israeli attack on Sunday night. But it seems that the source of those explosions in the hot Qalamun sector was the intensifying battles between Hezbollah and the Syrian army against Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front. While Hezbollah and the Syrian army had succeeded in cleansing the mountain strip of the radical Sunni troops in the past, Islamic State forces has managed to retake various territories in the area.