HMAS Toowoomba left Fleet Base West for a six-month deployment to the Middle East on January 13.
HMAS Toowoomba will contribute to the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) and provide continued support to the 33-nation Combined Maritime Force (CMF) in the Middle East Region, focussing on countering terrorism, preventing piracy, encouraging regional co-operation and promoting a safe maritime environment in the region.
The IMSC is the Trump administration’s effort to deter Iranian attacks on shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, which began after the US unilaterally withdrew from a joint treaty limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Strait is a key supply route for Australia’s energy requirements.
The deployment comes amid tensions surrounding the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a US drone attack near Baghdad airport, widely regarded as the most powerful man in Iran after Ayatollah Khamenei. Iran retaliated with signposted missile attacks on bases in Iraq and confirmed it also accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people and prompting protests in Iranian cities.
PM Scott Morrison has confirmed that Australian troops will remain in Iraq after assessing that the situation has stabilised, a view shared by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau in a phone call between the two leaders.
“The situation overnight has stabilised – that is a very relative term in the Middle East – and the cessation of those immediate hostilities that we saw yesterday, and the nature of the statement also issued by the President today, as well as the intelligence that we have, means that we are in a position to continue to undertake the mission that we have set for ourselves in the Middle East and we remain committed to that, as do our other partners," PM Morrison said.
ADM Comment: The assassination of Qassem Soleimani appears to be a significant tactical victory for the US: the removal of Iran’s grand strategy architect at the cost of zero American lives, although that is now complicated by the downing of the Ukrainian airliner.
On a strategic level, however, the move could reinforce Iran’s desire to attain nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders will likely contrast the gruesome fate of Soleimani with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, who has won several face-to-face meetings with Donald Trump after acquiring nuclear warheads. Would Soleimani have been assassinated if Iran had nuclear weapons?