Tension in the Persian Gulf has been escalating over the last few months between the United States Navy and Iranian warships. On Tuesday, a U.S. Navy patrol boat was involved in a tense encounter with an Iranian vessel. The encounter resulted in the patrol boat firing warning shots at the Iranian ship. Iran’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard later released a statement blaming the American ship for provoking the incident.
The USS Thunderbolt, a Cyclone-class patrol ship, was the ship that was involved in this latest incident in the Persian Gulf. The ship is part of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain.
U.S. Officials released a statement, saying that the Thunderbolt was taking part in an exercise with American and other coalition vessels when the Iranian boat approached it. The patrol boat made several attempts to warn the Iranian patrol boat, but the Iranian ship did not respond to radio calls, flares and sirens as it came within 150 yards of the Thunderbolt. This forced U.S. sailors aboard the USS Thunderbolt to take immediate action, firing warning shots at the Iranian ship.
After the shots were fired the Iranian boat stopped and went “dead in the water” and all U.S. and coalition vessels left the area. No other Iranian ships were encountered, nor were any further incidents reported.
After the incident at sea, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard released a statement saying that the Thunderbolt aggressively approached the Iranian ship in an attempt to provoke and create fear. They further stated that the U.S. ship is the one that approached the Iranian ship and fired shots in the air without any warning.
In recent months, the U.S. and the Revolutionary Guard have had some tense naval encounters in the Persian Gulf. In the last two years the encounters have become more and more frequent. The U.S. Navy recorded 35 instances of what it describes as “unsafe and/or unprofessional interactions” with Iranians forces in 2016, compared to 23 in 2015. This is a significant increase and it is something that is of great concern to U.S. Navy commanders.
One of the worst incidents that have occurred to date involved Iranian forces capturing 10 U.S. sailors and holding them overnight. This incident became a propaganda coup for Iran’s hard-liners, as Iranian state television repeatedly aired footage of the Americans on their knees, their hands on their heads. Iranian forces stated that the U.S. sailors entered Iranian waters and provoked the incident that led to their capture.
This latest tense incident is the first time a U.S. Navy ship has fired shots at an Iranian ship. Iranian forces view the American presence in the Gulf as a provocation by itself. Iranian forces have frequently accused the U.S. Navy of unprofessional behavior and have stated that all incidents are provoked by the U.S. Navy.
The Strait of Hormuz, the mouth of the Persian Gulf, is the area through which a third of the world’s oil trade by sea passes. Most of the incidents that have occurred between the U.S. Navy and the Iranian forces have been in this area.