Will the Convoy Option Return to the Persian Gulf?

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With the crisis between Iran and the United States showing no signs of cooling down anytime soon, the prospect of possible US military action is now increasing. The US is presently moving additional forces into the Persian Gulf region. The latest deployment’s numbers are modest, totaling 1,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Not a massive surge of forces by any means, however, the deployment does increase the level of combat power available to US commanders in the area.

The current crisis is similar in some ways to the 1987 US-Iran crisis and confrontation in the Persian Gulf. As was the case back in ’87, the recent attacks against oil tankers threatens to spark a conflict that would have a detrimental effect on world markets to say the least. The unhindered flow of oil from the Middle East to Europe and Asia is crucial to the global economy. Further attacks on oil tankers will interrupt the oil flow, and lead to a longer, more consequential disruption.

In order to prevent that from happening now, the protection of oil tankers needs to be guaranteed. The US Navy was faced with basically the same situation in 1987 and adopted a convoy system. It was a successful operation even though there were additional Iranian attacks on oil tankers, most notably the Bridgeton incident. Operation Earnest Will, as the effort was named, became the largest naval convoy operation since World War II and ran from July, 1987 through September, 1988.

Along with convoy protection, US naval forces also made significant efforts to stop Iranian forces from attacking shipping in the Persian Gulf. In some instances where Iranian forces successfully struck a ship, the US retaliated swiftly and decisively. In October of 1987 a reflagged US tanker was hit by an Iranian Silkworm missile. US naval forces responded by shelling oil platforms used by Iranian military units to launch attacks, eventually seizing and destroying them. In April, 1988 the USS Samuel B Roberts, a frigate, hit a mine in the Persian Gulf. The US response was Operation Praying Mantis, a large-scale air-sea attack that put Iran’s navy out of business, directly led to Iran ending its attacks on shipping, and motivated Tehran to seek a ceasefire in its eight year long war with Iraq.

As the situation in the Gulf stands today, it is not outside the realm of possibility to see a similar US military option developing soon.

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