Earlier this week, we reported on a series of aggressive interactions between Iranian ships and the USNS Invincible, an American surveillance ship in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway separating the Persian Gulf from the Arabian Sea. Now the Iranian government is challenging the U.S. Navy’s account of the second incident, and delivering a warning to Iran’s enemies.
The first incident occurred last Thursday, when an Iranian Navy Frigate paced the unarmed USNS Invincible at an inappropriate distance. The American government classified the action as “unprofessional” but noted that the frigate did not take any further hostile action, maintaining a parallel course that left the Invincible in what amounted to a tense standoff, but never crossing the line into what would be considered “unsafe” actions by the international community.
Then on Saturday, the USNS Invincible was targeted once again, this time however, by fast attack boats belonging to the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard. According to U.S. accounts, the Invincible was traveling in formation with three vessels from the British Navy when the fast attack boats positioned themselves directly in their path. The American and British ships were then forced to change course in order to avoid a collision with the smaller Iranian vessels.
On Wednesday, however, an Iranian guard commander challenged the U.S. ship’s account of the events, claiming instead that the unarmed Invincible changed course toward the fast attack boats, which, their claim seems to assume, were just minding their own business in the strategic waterway.
Iranian Guard commander Mehdi Hashemi claims that the United States provoked the incident, which was the first aggressively “unsafe” interaction between Iranian and American ships since the crew of the USS Mahan was forced to fire warning shots at similar Iranian fast attack boats that were set on a high-speed intercept course with the American vessel in January of this year.
“The unprofessional actions of the Americans can have irreversible consequences,” commander Hashemi told reporters on Wednesday.
Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, also made a public statement on Wednesday that would seem to be tied to their claims of American aggression in the region, despite not citing U.S. forces by name.
“If Iran’s ignorant enemies think about invading Iran they should know that our armed forces are much stronger than 1980 when Iraq attacked,” he said in a televised speech.
President Trump has made taking a tough line with Iran one of the tent-poles in his foreign policy strategy, criticizing the nuclear deal established with Iran by the international communities, including the United States under President Barack Obama. He has since levied new sanctions on the Iranian government for what the White House believes was a nuclear-capable ballistic missile test earlier this year. The Iranian government claimed the missile was a strictly defensive measure, and therefore in violation of no treaty or international law.
“We actually had seen quite an improvement in Iran’s behavior until recently,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters on Wednesday. He went on to claim that these kinds of interactions were a concern for American forces in the region because they could lead to a “miscalculation or an accidental provocation.”
It would seem that Iran sees the mere presence of American vessels in the Persian Gulf as an intentional provocation, however, as they have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to American forces in the past. It seems unlikely that an unarmed surveillance ship would attempt to cause an international incident while being accompanied by another nation’s vessels – and past behavior from the Iranians would seem to indicate not only that they are willing to behave aggressively toward American ships, but that they had taken issue with the American surveillance vessel already – attempting to intimidate it only days prior.
Image courtesy of Reuters