Iran, U.S. Warships in First Tense Mideast Encounter in a Year

DUBAI (AP) -
A photo released by the U.S. Navy, in which an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel cut in front of the U.S. Coast Guard ship USCGC Monomoy in the Persian Gulf.  (U.S. Navy via AP)

American and Iranian warships had a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf earlier this month, the first such incident in about a year amid wider turmoil in the region over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday.

Footage released by the Navy showed a ship commanded by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard cut in front of the USCGC Monomoy, causing the Coast Guard vessel to come to an abrupt stop with its engine smoking on April 2.

The Guard also did the same with another Coast Guard vessel, the USCGC Wrangell, said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet. Such close passes risk the ships colliding at sea.

Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident in the southern reaches of the Persian Gulf, which resulted in no injuries or damage.

“The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns, and while the [Iranian] Harth 55 responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, they continued the unsafe maneuvers,” Rebarich said. “After approximately three hour of the U.S. issuing warning and conducting defensive maneuvers, the [Iranian] vessels maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened distance between them.”

Some analysts believe the incidents are meant in part to squeeze President Hassan Rouhani’s administration after the 2015 nuclear deal. They include a 2016 incident in which Iranian forces captured and held overnight 10 U.S. sailors who strayed into the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters.

“U.S. naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense,” Rebarich said.

The incident comes as Iran negotiates with world powers in Vienna over Tehran and Washington returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, talks due to resume Tuesday. It also follows a series of incidents across the Mideast attributed to a shadow war between Iran and Israel, which includes attacks on regional shipping and sabotage at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.