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Rising Tensions: USN Builds Up Red Sea Presence Amidst Iran's and its proxies warnings

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

A caricature illustrating the seizure of a U.S. Navy unmanned surface vehicle (SLV) by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN

The geopolitical landscape in the Red Sea and surrounding areas has become increasingly charged as the US Navy enhances its presence in response to Iran's aggressive actions while Iran maintains its defiant posture. Meanwhile, statements from both Houthi and IRGC officials have further escalated the situation, warning the US forces to steer clear of territorial waters and underscoring the region's delicate balance of power.

The American naval buildup, exemplified by the recent transit of USS Bataan and USS Carter Hall through the Suez Canal, is undoubtedly a countermeasure to Iran's aggressive maritime activities. With both nations bolstering their military presence and posturing, the region teeters on the precipice of potential conflict. The intricate dance of power, strategic interests, and geopolitical stakes means that even the slightest miscalculation could have far-reaching repercussions.

The Houthi deputy foreign minister, Hussein al-Ezzi, called on the US forces to steer clear of Yemen's territorial waters. He twitted, "For the sake of global peace and safeguarding or worldwide peace and the safeguarding of navigation in the Red Sea, American forces must withdraw from our territorial waters. Even a simple approach could signify the initiation of what might become the lengthiest and most prolonged, and most costly conflicts in human history.

Earlier - IRGC spokesman Ramzan Sharif on August 7 warned that Iran would respond to any US "mischief" and recalled that: "In the direct battles between Iran and the United States in recent years, the countries of the region have realized the weakness of the United States and the power of the Islamic Republic and have understood that the security of the Persian Gulf must be ensured by the countries around it."

IRGC spokesman : Iran would respond to any US "mischief"

The US Navy has recently escalated its presence in the Red Sea, as illustrated by the passage of the USS Bataan and USS Carter Hall warships through the Suez Canal. According to a statement from the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, this deployment enhances "operational flexibility and maritime capability" in the region.

Over the past two years, Iran has reportedly seized or attempted to seize nearly 20 internationally flagged ships in the region. The USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship, and the USS Carter Hall, a dock landing ship, are deployed to deter such actions and de-escalate tensions created by Iran's activities, according to Fifth Fleet spokesman Commander Tim Hawkins. Last week, US officials revealed plans to deploy Marines and Navy personnel aboard commercial tankers transiting the Gulf, an additional measure to ensure security.


On July 5, the US military blocked two attempts by Iran to seize commercial tankers in international waters off Oman. Iran's maritime services reported a collision between the Bahamian-flagged Richmond Voyager and an Iranian vessel, injuring five crew members. Iran seized two oil tankers within a week in regional waters in April and early May. In November, Israel and the US attributed to Iran a drone strike against a tanker operated by an Israeli-owned firm carrying gas oil off the coast of Oman.

Drone strikes against moving maritime targets require significant technical capability and suggest using advanced Iranian military assets in the region. Knowing a maritime target's exact location and movement requires robust Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. This might include satellites, radar, sonar, or other intelligence assets. The development deployment of such a drone suggests an advanced attack drone arsenal and a willingness to utilize it.

The US subsequently announced the deployment of a destroyer, F-35 and F-16 warplanes, and an Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit to the Middle East to deter Iran's activities.

The current US. Navy buildup in the Red Sea is a clear response to Iran's aggressive actions and regional tensions. These developments are part of a broader strategy to deter Iran's harassment and seizure of merchant vessels and maintain stability in this strategically vital maritime area. The situation reflects ongoing regional and international concerns over Iran's influence and actions, leading to increased US military presence and readiness.

The USN is equipped to counter Iranian drone threats and attempts to seize commercial tankers or other vessels. Nevertheless, any decision to engage IRGCN or Iranian proxies such as the Houthis would be subjected to political, strategic, and tactical considerations.

On September 2022, State-run TV in Iran reported the seizure and release of two US unmanned surface vehicles (SLVs) in the Red Sea". Maj Gen Abdolrahim Mousavi, commander-in-chief of Iran's regular armed forces, justified the act by citing "concerns for international shipping safety." On August 29, 2022: US Central Command (Centcom) reported that US naval forces prevented an IRGC support ship from towing an SLV in the Persian Gulf. Some reports indicated that the US received the SLVs seized in the Red Sea without their cameras, though no official Iranian response to these allegations has been made.

As the US strengthens its maritime presence and continues diplomatic efforts, the dynamics in the region may intensify. Both nations will likely continue their strategic posturing, and any miscalculation could lead to an isolated incident. However, given a broader conflict's stakes and potential consequences, both sides might prioritize diplomatic channels to de-escalate tensions while maintaining a robust military posture.

So far, the United States has opted to avoid confrontation with Iran, despite Iran's continued provocations against American naval vessels in the region and its repeated attacks on shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf and the seas of Oman. Instead, the US has focused on bolstering its presence in the strategically vital areas where Iran is active, such as the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. This approach is influenced by ongoing negotiations regarding the nuclear agreement and the US government's reluctance to escalate matters with Iran, which continues to demonstrate an aggressive posture. Given the buildup of American forces and the escalating tensions with Iran's naval forces and its regional proxies, the potential for conflict is increasing, even if it may be limited in scope.


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