The Ministry of Defense wants to send Estonian officers to join the United States-led security mission in the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East. According to the draft decision submitted to the Riigikogu, Estonia would contribute up to five members of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) to Operation Sentinel.
"The U.S. government contacted us with the proposal to participate in this mission," said Minister of Defense Jüri Luik (Isamaa). "This is an important mission in the defense of international law and maritime freedom, and as our ally invited us, then we reviewed our resources, assessed our opportunities and consulted with the United Kingdom, another country participating in this mission."
According to Luik, Estonia will likely initially send just one officer, who will serve with the British unit at the operation's headquarters in Bahrain.
"And so we're seeking a mandate from the Riigikogu for joining this mission," he continued. "We are seeking the opportunity to send up to five people, but in reality we'd be sending one officer to the headquarters for now."
The minister noted that one issue for Estonia right now is the fact that a status of forces agreement (SOFA) has not yet been concluded with Bahrain, which would grant Estonian officers diplomat status, ensuring that they would not be subject to the local judicial system. He noted, however, that consultations with Bahrain are already underway.
"This is standard practice, so there is still a lot that needs to be straightened out before we can deploy an officer," he said.
According to Luik, an Estonian officer participating in such a mission would be an interesting opportunity.
"This would be the first time that an Estonian naval officer could participate in the staff of such a large naval operation, which would certainly provide us with experience in planning as well as other matters," he said.
Asked what the current situation is like in the Strait of Hormuz, where the U.S. decided to launch a mission last summer as Iranian ships began to increasingly pose a danger to ship traffic, Luik responded that tensions have decreased by now.
"According to our current information, there have been no incidents of any kind there in recent months; more significant incidents took place at the end of last year," the minister said. "And the fact that the U.S. and its allies are running such an international military mission has perhaps also reined Iran in somewhat. Of course this is, considering the entire Middle Eastern situation, a complex region, especially with the narrow Strait of Hormuz, where Iran has an entire slew of military opportunities to bully Western cargo ships — and, if they dare, also military ships. But I believe that this operation has a calming and stabilizing effect, which is of course this mission's main role."
According to the letter of explanation included with the draft decision submitted to the Riigikogu, the basic concept of Operation Sentinel is round the clock monitoring of the situation in the Strait of Hormuz, increasing situational awareness, and deterrence in its broadest sense through constant presence in the area. The goal of the mission is to boost the stability of naval security, ensure the safe passage of ships and reduce tensions in international waters in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb as well as the Gulf of Oman.
Countries to join the U.S.-led operation include Albania, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Australia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia and the U.K.
Editor: Aili Vahtla