Military News

Iran wants to lure disaffected American allies to a new naval coalition in the Indian Ocean

The Combined Maritime Forces is an American-led security coalition, protecting some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
iran navy
Iranian, Chinese and Russian naval forces, start a joint military exercise for 5 days at Indian Ocean on March 15, 2023. (Photo by Iranian Army / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Officials from the United Arab Emirates recently announced the country stopped participating with the Combined Maritime Forces, a 34-member coalition task force fighting terrorism and piracy in the Red Sea and around the Persian Gulf. 

Although it hasn’t officially left the security force, The UAE now finds itself with a new suitor: Iran, who wants to form a new naval coalition in the Indian Ocean, specifically, countries with an interest in the littoral areas of the ocean. 

The Combined Maritime Forces is an American-led security coalition protecting some of the world’s most important shipping lanes. It also bolsters counterterrorism efforts, efforts from which all nations in the Gulf region (including the UAE) benefit. 

The UAE publicly mentioned that it was reviewing all of its cooperation partnerships including the CMF and had simply not participated in two months. UAE officials told some news outlets that it was still dedicated to combating terrorism but was frustrated with lack of American action when Iran seizes oil tankers in the region. 

Iranian state media has reported that a new coalition of countries who operate naval forces along the north shores of the Indian Ocean are forming a naval security coalition. Iran’s state news agency Tasnim reported that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, Pakistan and India have all expressed an interest. 

combined maritime forces
NORTHERN ARABIAN SEA – JANUARY 5: In this handout provided by the U.S. Navy, U.S. sailors assigned to the guided missile destroyer USS Momsen (DDG 92) respond to a medical emergency aboard the Iranian fishing vessel Al Molai off the coast of Somalia approximately 400 nautical miles north of the Republic of Seychelles January 5, 2012, in the Arabian Sea. (Photo by U.S. Navy via Getty Images )

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed in Cape Town, South Africa. Oman’s sultan recently visited Iran on a diplomatic trip, but only pro-Iranian news outlets seem to know anything about the “new coalition.” 

Iran actually operates two navies, the Iranian Navy and a naval force operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. In May 2023, forces connected to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. The first was a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman. The second was a Panama-flagged tanker transiting the Strait of Hormuz. 

The United States responded by increasing its forces in the area. France and the United Kingdom followed suit soon after. The UAE – or any other Saudi Arabian neighbor –  is unlikely to join a coalition with Iran because Iran is the primary threat in the region. 

“It defies reason that Iran, the number one cause of regional instability, claims it wants to form a naval security alliance to protect the very waters it threatens,” US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces spokesperson Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told Breaking Defense

The new coalition would require longtime regional rivals like Saudi Arabia and Iran to suddenly come together over a new military objective. The two countries only recently resumed diplomatic relations, relations that were severed after it was revealed that Saudi agents had assisted the U.S. with the targeted killing of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani. Moreover, the supposed coalition also includes rivals India and Pakistan, who are unlikely to agree on any military operation unless it involves the use of force against each other. 

For now, it appears the US-led Combined Maritime Force is still the best game in town, even if it loses the occasional oil tanker from the Marshall Islands.