image Photo: Reuters

South Korea expands naval involvement in Hormuz

South Korea has announced that it will expand its naval deployment of anti-piracy units to the Strait of Hormuz. “Taking recent state of affairs in the Middle East into consideration, the South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit to ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of vessels,” said Seoul’s Deputy Defense Minister Chung Suk-Hwan.

The decision comes in response to an appeal from the United States to help guard oil tankers in the strategic waterway, following increased naval activity in the area by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, that include clandestine attacks against several civilian tankers. While South Korean forces will not officially join the U.S.-led International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) coalition, The Cheonghae Unit will cooperate with the Americans “if necessary.”

Deputy Defense Minister Suk-Hwan added “The step would ensure the safety of South Korean citizens and vessels in the Middle Eastern area while also contributing to international efforts for free navigation of vessels.”

The South Korean move comes just one week after France announced that it would deploy an aircraft carrier and a battle group to support its nation’s military operations in the Middle East, as part of a continued commitment to combat the Islamic State in the volatile region. According to French President Emmanuel Macron, “Our commitment has been intense on many fronts. In the Near and Middle East, despite the mutation of the region, our forces committed to the Chammal Operation to pursue operations in the combat against Daesh, whose territorial caliphate no longer exists, but whose threat has remained in a different form, brewing, more insidious.”

It is important to stress that the deployment comes amid growing concerns in Paris that the tensions between Tehran and Washington could hamper international efforts to combat the Islamic State. President Macron said that France’s presence in the region is integral to combating terrorism, including in Lebanon and the Arab-Persian Gulf. He also revealed that the four months mission would include a combined operation from several European countries. “In connection to this operation, the Aeronaval group will come to reinforce the Chammal Operation from January to April 2020, before deploying in the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea” said Macron, stressing that “Once again, our aircraft carrier (Charles de Gaulle) will be at the heart of a combined operation from several European countries. Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Greece will all participate to escort the Charles de Gaulle during its mission.”

Even though the initial proposal to establish an alternative to the IMSC came from Paris, its formation resulted from agreement among several nations – and as such, is considered a European-led naval mission in the strategically-important Strait of Hormuz.