Second close call between Iranian and US ships raises tensions

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WASHINGTON – For the second time in a month, Iranian and US ships came dangerously close in the Persian Gulf on Monday evening, the navy said on Tuesday, escalating tensions between the two countries as their negotiators resumed talks to renew on 2015. nuclear deal.

According to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps rapid attack craft sailed in the vicinity of a Navy coastal patrol vessel and Coast Guard patrol vessel as the two US ships were patrolling international waters in the northern part of the Persian Gulf.

At around 8 p.m. local time on Monday, Iranian boats quickly and repeatedly approached the US ships, the Firebolt and the Baranoff – at one point, approaching 68 meters, according to a Navy statement.

U.S. crews issued several warnings via deck-to-deck radio and loudspeakers, but Iranian ships continued to maneuver at close range, the navy said. When the Firebolt crew fired warning shots, Iranian ships moved away “at a safe distance from US ships,” the navy said.

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It was the second time in a month that Iran had conducted harassment maneuvers against Navy or Coast Guard ships in the region, after a year of relative maritime peace.

This interaction was the first “dangerous and unprofessional” episode involving Iran since April 15, 2020, said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, spokesperson for the Fifth Fleet. In 2017, the Navy recorded 14 such harassing interactions with Iranian forces, up from 35 in 2016 and 23 in 2015.

In 2016, Iranian forces captured and detained 10 American sailors overnight who strayed into the territorial waters of the Islamic Republic.

However, these incidents had mostly stopped in 2018 and for most of 2019, Commander Rebarich said. Episodes at sea have almost always involved the Revolutionary Guards, who report only to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

This month’s earlier encounter occurred on April 2, when a Revolutionary Guard Corps ship, the Harth 55, accompanied by three rapid attack ships, harassed two coastguards, the Wrangell and the Monomoy, as they carried out routine security patrols in the international waters of the southern Persian Gulf, the navy said in a separate statement on Tuesday. This episode has already been reported by the Wall Street Journal.

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The Harth 55 repeatedly cut past the two US ships at an extremely close distance, approaching up to 70 meters, the Navy said. U.S. crews issued several warnings via deck-to-deck radio, five short bursts of ship horns, but Iranian ships continued, the navy said.

After about three hours of warning the US ships and defensive maneuvering to avoid collisions, the Iranian ships moved away.

U.S. military analysts noted that Iranian warships were targeting some of the region’s smallest and lightest navy and coastguard vessels, indicating that the Iranians may have wanted to make a statement without risking harm. have their people killed.

Navy cruisers and destroyers, which are much larger than the ships that have been harassed and carry a much more deadly complement of weapons, have special 5-inch shells – developed after the deadly attack in 2000 on the destroyer. Cole in Yemen – which are specifically designed to take out small, fast attack devices like these at the Iranians. But the US ships targeted this month do not have such armaments on board.

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Monday night’s incident came just days after a leaked audio cassette offered a glimpse into the Iranian leadership’s behind-the-scenes power struggles. In the recording, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Revolutionary Guard Corps launched the shootings, overturning many government decisions and ignoring diplomatic advice.

In an extraordinary moment on the tape, Mr. Zarif left the official reverent line on Major General Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Guards Force, with his arm facing the foreign Iranian security apparatus. , who was killed by the United States in January 2020.

“In the Islamic Republic, the military field rules,” Zarif said in a three-hour conversation that was part of an oral history project documenting the work of the current administration.

John ismay contribution to reports.

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