According to unnamed defense officials, a U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots at four Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels in the Strait of Hormuz after the ships advanced to close to their American counterparts.
“The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the USS Mahan established radio communication with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats but they did not respond to requests to slow down and continued asking the Mahan questions.
“The Navy destroyer fired warning flares and a U.S. Navy helicopter also dropped a smoke float before the warning shots were fired.”
Defense officials claim the Iranian ships came within 900 yards (2,700 feet) of the Mahan, which had been tasked with protecting other U.S. vessels in the area.
As the southern entry point to the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz — although technically the territorial waters of Oman — is considered international waters and thus traversable by any nation. However, Iran — positioned on the north of the strait — has repeatedly threatened during instances of geopolitical turmoil to refuse entry to the United States and other nations.
With the situation in the Middle East — particularly regarding Syria and Yemen — still fueling tension between the West and a growing bloc of nations allied with Russia, there have been hints Tehran could follow through on its threat to close the maritime ‘choke point.’
In January 2016, ten U.S. Navy members were briefly captured and detained by Iran after their ship putatively experienced a malfunction of navigational systems and strayed into Iranian waters. That incident came under intense scrutiny, and an internal probe found both Iran and U.S. crew members at fault. According to Admiral John Richardson, in part,
“The investigation concluded that Iran violated international law by impeding the boats’ innocent passage transit, and they violated sovereign immunity by boarding, searching and seizing the boats and by photographing and videotaping the crew.”
Pictures and video of the Navy crew being detained sparked international controversy and heightened tensions between the two countries as Iran rightly called out the U.S. for breaching its territory and the U.S. admonished Tehran for the way it handled the incident.
In October, the U.S. reported missiles launched from Houthi rebel territory in Yemen led the military to fire back, knocking out strategic radar sites and other important targets in the area. As The Free Thought Project explained at the time,
“Yemen’s Shi’a Houthis — who captured capital city, Sana’a, last year — have long been suspected by Washington to be receiving direct but surreptitious support from the Iranian government, which flatly denies the allegation.”
Because the Houthis denied having fired upon any U.S. ships — and the situation seemed murky and inexplicable — retaliation drew the ire of Yemeni government-allied Iran, which deployed a fleet to the area.
That incident is believed to be the official U.S. entry into the war in Yemen, although the situation didn’t escalate further with Tehran.
Years of hostilities between the United States and Iran cooled somewhat over a deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear weapons ambitions; however, Reuters notes, “serious differences still remain over Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as conflicts in Syria and Iraq.”
According to one unnamed official whom Reuters paraphrased, “the warning shots fired on Sunday were just one of seven interactions the Mahan had with Iranian vessels over the weekend, but the others were judged to be safe.”
Should Iranian vessels harass any U.S. Navy ships, President-elect Donald Trump warned in September, they would be “shot out of the water.”
Reuters was unable to reach the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps or Trump’s transition team for comment on the weekend’s events.