In the beginning of May, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) made a veiled threat to the United States in regards to the use of the Strait of Hormuz and the following quote by IRGC’s Hossein Salamei was given alluding to that threat:
“If the Americans and their regional allies want to pass through the Strait of Hormuz and threaten us, we will not allow any entry. Americans cannot make safe any part of the world.”
In the course of the last 24 hours, General Joseph Votel, the new U.S. Central Command commander got an up close and personal look at the IRGC Navy when the warship he was on, USS New Orleans, was approached by five armed IRGC naval vessels in the Arabian Gulf. General Votel was on board the USS New Orleans on a southbound transit in the Strait of Hormuz when the Iranian ships came within about 500 yards of the U.S. ship, according to U.S. defense officials. A U.S. defense official said there were two separate encounters with the Iranian boats; the first was with a Houdong class patrol boat and the second with four smaller Iranian vessels.
There was at least one bridge-to-bridge communication between the Americans and Iranians, the official said and the encounters were deemed safe by the U.S., one defense official said, noting that Iranians often shadow U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf. General Votel warned that such incidents pose a risk and said,
“As you’ve seen in a relatively compressed space here, there is great opportunity for miscalculations. We don’t always have a lot of time to deal with those interactions. I think what we’ve probably learned here today is that it’s measured in minutes.”
U.S. and coalition personnel are trained to avoid contributing to miscalculation but are ready to defend themselves if necessary, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) Spokesman Lt. Ian McConnaughey said. In this case, the Iranian vessels left the area without incident. Last year, there were more than 300 interactions between maritime forces from Iran and the U.S. Navy, and only 10 percent of those were characterized as unsafe, nonroutine or unprofessional, McConnaughey said. So far this year, with 250 interactions, that percentage has been about the same.
In January, two U.S. Riverine command boats were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps when they strayed close to Iran’s Farsi Island. Ten sailors were detained overnight. Unsafe, nonroutine or unprofessional interactions are characterized as maritime forces crossing the bow of a U.S. ship or closing the distance on a vessel at a high rate of speed, McConnaughey said and added,
“We always welcome the professionalism in the maritime domain and that’s how we conduct ourselves.”
U.S. Naval vessels routinely transit the Strait of Hormuz while entering and exiting the Persian Gulf for maritime security operations and for strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Along with the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, it’s one of three critical choke points for maritime commerce in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
Will Iran continue to be increasingly aggressive with its naval patrols against U.S. naval ships in the Arabian Gulf? Sound off in the comments below.