Stocks took a nasty fall on Tuesday when Al Arabiya erroneously reported that Iran had captured a cargo ship with a crew of Americans on board. It also sent oil surging. Things promptly normalized when it was revealed that the "confiscated" ship was merely one with a Marshall Island flag, at which point its fate was quickly forgotten (it may still be held by Iran, or not). But one thing is certain: both Iran and the US are itching for a provocation, whether a direct one or the far more traditional false flag type.
Earlier today, Iran's Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said that presence of the 34th fleet of the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Aden is in accordance with international law to protect Iranian trade vessels against pirates.
Quoted by Iran's IRNA news agency, Sayyari, who was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony to mark the National Teacher's Day, said that the Iranian Navy has maintained a continuous presence in the Gulf of Aden, Bab el-Mandeb Strait and western India since 2008 Sayyari
He added that claims that Iranian warships have been warned and that they have left this region are not correct.
The Navy commander reiterated that the Iranian fleet does not enter territorial waters of other countries and is only present in international waters to ensure security for Iranian trade vessels.
Sayyari said that the 34th fleet of the Iranian Navy has also helped other countries in protecting their ships against pirates.
A laughable excuse of course, but no less laughable than the one provided by the US navy offered ten days ago when we learned that a US Navi aircraft carrier and a warship are being dispatched to intercept Iranian weapons shipment to Yemeni rebels.
And, as expected, moments ago there was yet another step up in the Persian Gulf naval escalation when CNN reported that the U.S. Navy will escort U.S.-flagged cargo ships through Strait of Hormuz in wake of Iran seizure this week, a US official says. Specifically, the Navy will henceforth accompany ships on concern that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard may seize them, CNN’s Jim Sciutto says in Twitter post, citing CNN’s Barbara Starr.
As a reminder the Straits of Hormuz is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, one which is transited by 35% of all seaborne traded oil.
This takes place just a day after the Pentagon said that the U.S. would "be able to respond" if necessary to help a Marshall Islands-flagged ship that was diverted, and boarded, a day earlier by Iran -- though it remains unclear how far the U.S. Navy might be willing to go if the tense situation escalates.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, the USS Farragut, is in the area and "keeping an eye on things," and in close enough proximity to the ship that they "will be able to respond if a response is required."
When pressed on what kind of incident aboard the ship would elicit a U.S. Navy response, he was vague, saying: "These [U.S. military] assets give commanders options." He said he didn't know "what the possibilities are," and the U.S. government is "in discussions with the Marshall Islands on the way ahead."
It is unclear what happens if either the accompanied cargo ship, or the US Navy warship leaves international waters, and enters Iran territory, which as the Bab el-Mandeb Strait is virtually assured: a strait which as the US Naval update map below shows has become as busy for US traffic as the 405 Freeway during rush hour.