National Security

US Navy Has Close Encounter With Iran Days Before Key Election

A U.S. Navy destroyer had a close encounter with an Iranian vessel Monday, just two days before a crucial Iranian presidential election.

An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessel came within 1,000 meters of the USS Mahan, forcing it to fire flares toward the IRGC vessel after attempting to turn away from it, according to the Associated Press. The encounter is the latest of the Navy’s close encounters with Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf, coming two days before Iran’s radical conservative faction attempts to retake the presidency.

“[The] Mahan made several attempts to contact the Iranian vessel by bridge-to-bridge radio, issuing warning messages and twice sounding the internationally recognized danger signal of five short blasts with the ship’s whistle, as well as deploying a flare to determine the Iranian vessel’s intentions,” Lt. Ian McConnaughey, a 5th Fleet spokesman, told the AP in a statement Wednesday.

Iran’s leading conservative candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, is the supposed favorite of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate authority over the IRGC. It is unclear if the two events are related, but the timing of the event is telling. The IRGC’s provocation could be an attempt to exhibit the hardline faction’s strength against the U.S.

The Mahan had a previous encounter with Iranian vessels in January, at which time it was forced to fire warning shots at two patrol boats.

The IRGC has drastically increased its encounters with U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf. Many of the encounters occur near the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow channel through which 33 percent of the world’s oil passes. The U.S. Navy recorded 35 “unsafe and/or unprofessional” encounters with the IRGC in 2016, up from 23 in 2015. Seven such instances have been recorded in 2017, including Monday’s incident.

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