Iran downplays confrontation
It was a case of mistaken identity, an Iranian official said.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that a confrontation between Iranian boats and U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf over the weekend was “something normal” and was resolved. It suggested the Iranian boats had not recognized the U.S. vessels.
The Pentagon said that in the incident early Sunday, five small Iranian boats repeatedly “charged” U.S. warships in the Gulf’s Hormuz Strait and dropped boxes in the water. The boats warned the U.S. ships that they would set up “explosions,” a U.S. Defense Department official said.
The U.S. craft were on the verge of opening fire when the Iranian boats fled, the official said, calling the incident “the most serious provocation of its sort” in the Gulf. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini played down the incident, suggesting it was an issue of mistaken identity. He did not comment on the U.S. claims of the Iranian boats’ actions.
“That is something normal that takes place every now and then for each party, and it [the problem] is settled after identification of the two parties,” he told the state news agency IRNA.
The incident was “similar to past ones” that were resolved “once the two sides recognized each other.”
U.S. Navy and Iranian officials have said in the past that vessels from the two rival nations frequently come into contact in the waters of the narrow, heavily trafficked Gulf. They often communicate by radio to avoid incidents.
But the latest incident was the first time U.S. officials have spoken of such a direct threat from Iranian boats.
The incident occurred about 5 a.m. local time Sunday as Navy cruiser USS Port Royal, destroyer USS Hopper and frigate USS Ingraham were on their way into the Persian Gulf and passing through the strait — a major oil shipping route.
Five small boats began charging the U.S. ships, dropping boxes in the water in front of the ships and forcing the U.S. ships to take evasive maneuvers, the Pentagon official said.
There were no injuries, but the official said there could have been, because the Iranian boats turned away “literally at the very moment that U.S. forces were preparing to open fire” in self-defense.
The official said he didn’t have the precise transcript of communications that passed between the two forces, but said the Iranians radioed something like “we’re coming at you and you’ll explode in a couple minutes.”