Commercial ships told to stay far away from Iran due to a heightened possibility of attack or seizure

  • The US Navy is warning commercial ships to avoid traveling near Iranian territory.

  • Iranian forces have already seized two oil tankers this year.

  • Attacks on ships in the region have increased ever since Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.

A US Navy official on Saturday warned shippers traversing waters near Iran to stay “as far away” as possible from the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters amid fears that a boat could be seized in the coming days.

Already this year Iran has seized two oil tankers, one traveling through the Strait of Hormuz and another in the Gulf of Oman, including one carrying crude oil for Chevron. Iran has claimed, without evidence, that the seizures were carried out due to regulatory and safety issues.

Speaking to the Associated Press, US Navy Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins said ships “are being advised to transit as far away from Iranian territorial waters as possible,” noting a warning issued by the US-based International Maritime Security Construct. A European maritime organization has also warned that a ship could be seized “in the next 12 to 72 hours,” according to a private intelligence analysis cited by the AP.

Since 2021, Iran has “harassed, attacked, or interfered with” the navigation rights of 15 internationally flagged merchant ships, according to the US Navy. That has prompted the Biden administration to deploy more military assets in the region — and to consider placing US soldiers on certain commercial vessels, a move meant to dissuade Iran from trying to thwart their passage but which critics, including the Islamic Republic itself, say could escalate tensions.

Attacks linked to the nuclear deal

Iran has stepped up its harassment of merchant vessels since 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal negotiated by the US and Europe that sought to prevent the country from developing an atomic bomb. Experts say that decision — paired with a new round of economy-wide sanctions, as well as the killing of a top Iranian general — empowered anti-American hardliners in Iran, undermining efforts to revive the agreement.

Since the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, Iran has stockpiled a significant amount of highly-enriched uranium, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, recently producing fuel that is considered just below weapons-grade.

While Iran this week did agree to release some American prisoners in exchange for the United States lifting a freeze on some of its overseas assets, there are not yet any signs that Washington and Tehran are on the verge of a broader understanding, Michelle Grisé, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, told Insider.

“The decisions that the Trump administration made vis-a-vis Iran, specifically the decision to pursue this ‘maximum pressure’ strategy and adopt this much more aggressive stance toward Iran, particularly after 2018 — I think that really constrained the decision space that was available to the Biden administration,” Grisé said. “I think it also perhaps made Iran question the utility of investing in reaching a new deal and pursuing diplomacy with the United States.”

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