U.S. Navy Fires Warning Shots At Iranian Vessel During Tense Encounter
A U.S. Navy patrol boat fired three warning shots at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps naval vessel Wednesday after the vessel “harassed” the patrol boat, according to U.S. officials as reported by CNN.
A second U.S. naval patrol boat and a Kuwaiti naval ship were also harassed by the Iranian vessel, according to CNN. The Iranian vessel came to within 200 yards of one the patrol boats. After the Iranian vessel ignored signal flares and radio messages advising it to steer clear of the U.S. and Kuwaiti ships, the USS Squall fired three warning shots. None of the other ships fired any shots.
Three warning shots being fired into the water is standard maritime procedure for sending a definitive signal that a vessel needs to leave the immediate area. The incident occurred in the northern end of the Persian Gulf, an area of increased tensions in recent months, despite the passage of a nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran earlier this year.
As CNN reports, recent incidents between U.S. and Iran include repeated instances of long-range ballistic missiles being test fired by Iran, Iranian drones flying over U.S. vessels, and the capture of U.S. seamen by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps sailors in January. None of these incidents involved either party firing warning shots.In May the New York Times reported that tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which are always simmering, were growing more heated as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s Foreign Ministry, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, aired frustration over the longstanding deployment of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf.
The Iranians accused the U.S. of having a “meddling approach and tone” in the area and went as far as to threaten to block the Strait of Hormuz, a vital access route in the Persian Gulf.
“It is Americans who should explain why they have come here from the other side of the world and stage war games,” the ayatollah said, according to the Times.
A U.S. Navy spokesperson told the BBC that the warning shots the Squall fired at the Iranian vessel on Wednesday occurred during what was just one of several similar encounters in the past week alone.
On Tuesday, the day before the USS Squall fired the warning shots, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps patrol craft shadowed the guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze near the Strait of Hormuz, reports the National Review.U.S. Navy officials referred to Tuesday’s encounter as a “high-seed intercept” of the Nitze in international waters and said it was “unsafe and unprofessional,” according to the National Review.
No warning shots were fired in the incident on Tuesday.
Iran’s Defense minister, General Hosein Dehghan, insisted that Wednesday’s encounter arose because the ships were in Iranian waters, according to the BBC. Dehghan gave warning that his forces would confront any foreign ship that enters Iran’s waters.
The Persian Gulf is a site of considerable dispute, as several oil-rich nations in the region vie for greater control over it. The Strait of Hormuz, which lies at the mouth of the Gulf, is of particular strategic and economic interest because roughly 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil exports pass through it, according to the BBC.
With so much resting on one key waterway, in a region already embroiled by multinational conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, any additional confrontations are particularly concerning.
As State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told CNN, incidents like the one that took place Wednesday “unnecessarily escalate tensions.” She added that what happened is particularly unsettling given that the U.S. doesn’t know Iran’s intentions.
It is relatively rare for a nation’s vessels to fire warning shots at those of another nation.
[Photo by Scott Nelson/Getty Images]