The navies of the western world are planning to come together to make a show of strength by holding exercises in the Arabian Gulf to display the full spectrum of their armory at the end of this month. The three-day exercises in the ocean where the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries including Bahrain are ranged on one side of the coast and Iran on the other will be held from January 31 to February 2.
The US Naval Forces Central Command [NAVCENT] headquartered in Bahrain will join hands in the exercise to be led by the British Royal Navy which is in the process of constructing a naval base in Bahrain close to the American one. France and Australia are the other two countries sending in their vessels.
The multinational drill called Unified Trident will involve “all of NAVCENT’s task forces, to include surface, strike, mine countermeasure, maritime patrol assets along with UK, French and Australian naval forces in the Arabian Gulf,” according to the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet spokesman.
The ostensible purpose of the exercise, according to him, is to “showcase the full spectrum of maritime operations with aims to strengthen partnerships, increase maritime secaurity and enhance international cooperation to ensure the free flow of commerce in the Gulf region.”
The head of the Combined Task Force of four nations, British Royal Navy’s Commodore Andrew Burns, means to contribute to the stability, order on the high seas and freedom of navigation, and ensure the free flow of commerce “so vital to the prosperity of our nations.”
While four First World powers are exercised over peace, stability and freedom in the regional waterways, they are somehow steering clear of mentioning where the threat might stem from, in their judgement. Nevertheless it is clear as daylight that the exercise is aimed at warning none other than Iran and sending it the message that it should steer clear of playing any mischief in the region.
While there are many sources of concern in the countries north of the Arabian Gulf, it is common knowledge that in the case of the ISIS in Syria and political chaos and instability in Iraq, Iran stands on the wrong side against the West, even abetting and underwriting troubles and trouble-makers in the two instances. At the same time, the West has lost its will and ability to browbeat Iran politically any further in the wake of signing the nuclear agreement with it and consequently lifting a range of sanctions and embargoes.
It is in the light of this that the impending naval exercise needs to be seen. As things stand, ISIS has no oil ships to launch and has instead chosen the route of smuggling its oil through third parties, and Iraq is too debilitated by internecine conflicts to play truant in the Gulf. With the six friendly Gulf Arab oil states ranged along the lower Gulf, the only potential trouble-maker left in the field is Iran.
Indeed it has already caused quite a bit of trouble beyond the high seas in Bahrain recently when it successfully planned the escape of ten hardcore terrorists from its high-security jail on New Year’s Day. The jail premises had been reconnoitered and filmed with a remote-controlled plane before four heavily-armed gunmen stormed the jail at dawn in a black 4WD.
But going by its history, Iran is equally capable of disrupting the flow of oil through the lanes on the high seas facing the Arab countries, if only to push its own output – which it was compelled to hold back in its years in the wilderness – into the international market.
Operation Unified Trident, therefore, comes at an opportune moment.