U.S. Navy Reasserts Dominance in the Persian Gulf
The U.S. announced on March 24 the signing of a strategic agreement with Oman that gives it access to two Arabian sea ports. The ports, located in the coastal towns of Duqm and Salalah, will serve as refueling and new command centers for the United States Fifth Fleet, which is responsible for patrolling the Persian Gulf. Negotiations for the ports, while finalized this month, began under the Obama administration.
The port at Duqm is especially important given its capability of acting as a deep water port, even able to service and turn around aircraft carriers. However, the port’s most important feature is its location directly outside the entrance to the Straits of Hormuz, a major oil passageway at the heart of the Persian Gulf.
The Strait of Hormuz has been a constant worry for the United States due to Iran’s proximity and past threats to block the Straits in retaliation to “hostile U.S. actions.” Recent developments in Iran’s missile program, as well as advances in conventional weaponry technologies, have begun to raise concerns that the U.S. needs to have a more direct presence in the region in order to protect vital interests. Additionally, the ports will connect U.S. military assets to a broader network of roads in the region, increasing access and the military’s ability to respond to crises in the area.
While providing great benefit for the U.S., the deal is also an economic boost for Oman. Over the past decade, Oman has worked to attract foreign capital and build up the country's infrastructure, while preserving a neutral role in Middle Eastern politics. Specifically, Oman hopes that the U.S.’s new facility in Duqm will help transform the city into a key Middle East industrial center.
A few years ago, Chinese firms invested over $10 billion in the project before halting future development. Seemingly, China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects in Oman didn’t pan out, leaving an opening that the United States is now exploiting to reassert control over the region.