The French foreign ministry said Monday that eight European Union nations had given their support for a new naval patrol to help avoid potential conflicts in the Strait of Hormuz, the strategically critical entry to the Persian Gulf.
Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal backed the new force, though the ministry did not say how many ships would be involved, or when they would begin operations.
But a French army official told AFP on condition of anonymity that a Dutch frigate is expected to launch the patrol rotations by the end of February.
The move comes amid escalating tensions in the region, especially between Iran and the United States, that have sparked attacks on tankers and other conflicts in a crucial zone for oil shipping.
“For months this situation has jeopardised freedom of navigation and the security of both European and foreign ships and crews,” the ministry said in a statement.
The E.U. initiative also underscores the bloc’s goal of acting separately from the U.S., which launched its own operation alongside allies last November to protect shipping in Gulf waters. Although the United Kingdom has joined the new U.S.-led coalition, other European governments have declined to take part, fearful of undermining their efforts to save the landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.
France and its European allies are hoping to distance themselves from U.S. President Donald Trump in order to save the deal curtailing Iran’s nuclear program.
Trump abandoned the accord in 2018 and imposed economic sanctions against Iran, rekindling a smouldering conflict that led to strikes on cargo ships as well as Saudi Arabian oil facilities.
France, Denmark, Greece and the Netherlands have already confirmed they will contribute to the patrols, which will be based in the United Arab Emirates, and “new commitments” are expected in the coming days, the ministry said.
In November, French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said a European-led maritime mission to monitor the Gulf would be stationed at the French naval base in Abu Dhabi.
With reporting from AFP. This post was updated on January 20.