Iranian navy gunboats harassed U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday. The Iranian vessels repeatedly approached U.S. ships very closely in an aggressive manner in the international waters of the northern Persian Gulf.
This is just the latest incident in the tension between the two countries. In the past year, Iranian-led militias had continuously been firing rockets at American bases in Iraq and Syria. This led to the U.S. conducting an airstrike that killed the Iranian commander of the Quds Force Major General Soleimani. The Iranians retaliated with attacks on the U.S. Embassy and further rocket attacks on U.S. bases. In early March, U.S. and coalition aircraft pounded Iranian-led Kataib Hezbollah militia units. Since then, relative quiet had followed, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic which has struck both countries… until now.
In this latest incident, eleven Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) small gunboats repeatedly approached the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), USS Firebolt (PC 10), USS Sirocco (PC 6), USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332), and USCGC Maui (WPB 1304).
The Iranian gunboats kept crossing the bows and sterns of the American ships at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller within 50 yards and within 10 yards of Maui’s bow.
The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and by blasts from the ships’ horns and long-range acoustic noise maker devices but received no response from the Iranians.
After approximately one hour, the IRGCN vessels responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, then maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened the distance between them.
The American ships were sailing in international waters in the North Arabian Gulf and were conducting joint operations with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters. (The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and Army have been conducting joint interoperability operations in the North Arabian Gulf since late March.)
The U.S. Navy statement released read,
“the IRGCN’s dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision, were not in accordance with the internationally recognized Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) ‘rules of the road’or internationally recognized maritime customs, and were not in accordance with the obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area.”
Tensions between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf are nothing new: the two have been jousting in the vital sea passage for nearly 40 years. In 1987, Navy SEALs and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment aircraft took action against Iranian aggression in the gulf by attacking platforms at sea. And in September of the same year, SEALs flown by 160th SOAR aircraft stopped an Iranian ship laying mines in the gulf.
Iran is not the only nation that has been testing the U.S. On the same day as the Iranians’ harassment, a Russian aircraft intercepted an American P-8A Poseidon, an anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare aircraft, that was flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea.
The Russian SU-35 fighter crossed so closely in front of the Poseidon that the crew experienced “wake turbulence” as the pilot conducted an inverted maneuver within 25 feet of the American plane, in a move reminiscent of the “Top Gun” film.
“The interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-35 conducting a high-speed, inverted maneuver, 25 feet directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk,” the Navy said in a statement.
The Russians had conducted a similar stunt in the summer of 2019.