Iran Says Might Release Evidence It Warned off U.S. Warship in Sea of Oman

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Sep 11, 2017
Iran Says Might Release Evidence It Warned off U.S. Warship in Sea of Oman

A senior commander of the Iranian Navy reiterated that the country’s naval forces had warned an American military vessel to avoid approaching a drowning Iranian boat in the Sea of Oman. U.S. officials have rejected reports about any direct contact with the Iranian forces, but Rear Admiral Reza Abbasi said he could release a recording of the encounter to prove that the incident had happened. “Given that we maintain sustained presence in the Sea of Oman and north of the Indian Ocean, we have stationed our military vessels in this region and are conducting our intelligence and operational activities there,” Abbasi told Tasnim News Agency, an outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.).

He added that Iran’s Falakhan missile-launching vessel warned a U.S. military vessel which intended to rescue the Iranian boat. “Since we are informed about the U.S. Navy’s illegitimate presence and objectives in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, we warned the American vessel to avoid getting close to the Iranian boat,” Abbasi stressed. “We are present in this region and carry out our mission. We consider any American presence and activities in this region – even for humanitarian and rescue missions – illegal, and we don’t need the presence of American Navy in the region.”

Comment: After Abbasi initially made the claim, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said the coastal patrol U.S.S. Tempest heard a distress call of an unidentified small boat in the Sea of Oman. “At no time was there any direct contact between the U.S. and Iranian maritime forces,” NAVCENT spokesman Chloe Morgan said.

The incident comes as tension between U.S. and Iranian naval forces has increased in the Persian Gulf in recent months.

Last month, U.S. Navy officials said Iran had sent a drone close to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. "Despite repeated radio calls to establish communications and remain clear, the QOM-1's controlling station was unresponsive and the [unmanned aerial vehicle] did not use any aircraft navigation lights while it made several passes in close proximity to Nimitz and its escort ships during active flight operations, coming within 1,000 feet of U.S. aircraft," Navy Lt. Ian McConnaughey, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said. "The failure of the Iranian UAV to utilize standard, internationally-mandated navigation lights during a night time approach of a U.S. aircraft carrier engaged in flight operations created a dangerous situation with the potential for collision and is not in keeping with international maritime customs and laws." The I.R.G.C. rejected U.S. claim and stressed that it will continue its “routine” air patrol in the region despite U.S. warnings. A statement released by the I.R.G.C. ’s added that the country’s air force will disregard “psychological warfare by foreign forces.”

In June, U.S. military officials said  three U.S. Navy ships and a Marine helicopter had an “unsafe and unprofessional” encounter with an Iranian Navy vessel in international waters in the Persian Gulf. The amphibious assault ship U.S.S. Bataan, guided-missile destroyer U.S.S. Cole and dry cargo ship U.S.N.S. Washington Chambers were sailing through the Strait of Hormuz when an Iranian vessel came within 800 yards of the Bataan, according to a statement by the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The Iranian vessel also shined a laser at the U.S. helicopter accompanying the ships. "Illuminating helicopters with lasers at night is dangerous as it creates a navigational hazard that can impair vision and can be disorienting to pilots using night vision goggles," the statement added. One U.S. defense official told CNN that the Iranian vessel was a missile boat.

In late April, American officials said that a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer fired a warning flare to deter an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) vessel approaching it in the Persian Gulf. According to McConnaughey, the Iranian vessel attempted to keep coming closer to the U.S.S. Mahan although the destroyer had changed course to avoid the escalation. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif took to Twitter to defend the I.R.G.C.’s hostile move: "Breaking: Our Navy operates in — yes, correct — the Persian Gulf, not the Gulf of Mexico. Question is what US Navy doing 7,500 miles from home," he tweeted, also attaching a map showing a distance of 7,592 miles between the Persian Gulf and Miami.

U.S. Navy commanders have warned that such Iranian provocations could result in miscalculation and trigger an armed confrontation in the Persian Gulf.