US Navy ship fired warning shots at Iranian ships after close encounter


Top line

Iranian rapid attack boats loaded two US ships in the Persian Gulf on Monday evening, prompting warning shots from one of the US ships, the US Navy said on Tuesday, a moment of tension as the two countries aim to reinstate agreement.


Three armed speedboats operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps approached within 68 meters of a US Navy coastal patrol vessel and a US Coast Guard patrol vessel operating in international waters of the Persian Gulf, the navy said in a statement.

US personnel attempted to radio the Iranian ships, but they did not respond, leading to the navy firing warning shots that caused the ships to speed up.

The Navy said the action violated international maritime rules of the road and “increased the risk of miscalculation and / or collision.”

Iran’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Crucial quote

“The United States is not an aggressor; our navies remain positioned in a non-provocative manner, ”the navy said in a statement. “Our forces, however, are trained to carry out effective defensive measures when necessary.”


The incident comes just weeks after several fast-attacking Iranian ships operated near U.S. Coast Guard ships for hours, forcing U.S. ships to maneuver to avoid them.

Key context

Several years ago, Iranian ships regularly sailed near American ships patrolling the Persian Gulf, but these encounters – which the Pentagon considers unprofessional and provocative – seemed to become less common after 2017. Yet the relationship between the two countries have remained acrimonious. Iran has repeatedly vowed to avenge the American murder of Iranian force chief Quds Qasem Solemaini last year, and the United States has occasionally bombed Iran-backed Shiite militia groups operating in Iraq and the United States. Syria in recent years, most recently carrying out airstrikes in February after a militia was accused of bombing the US embassy in Baghdad. Additionally, US ally Israel often strikes Iran-backed militias in Syria, and Israel was linked with an explosion at an Iranian nuclear site earlier this month.

What to watch out for

Nuclear talks. Monday’s maritime shutdown call comes as Iran and the United States engage in delicate indirect negotiations for a U.S. return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump chose to to leave.

Surprising fact

When Iranian ships load American ships in the Persian Gulf, they usually belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, not the country’s conventional navy. In an audio tape leaked this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif acknowledged that the IRGC – which reports directly to the country’s Supreme Leader – runs Iranian foreign policy and has undermined the 2015 nuclear deal.

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