Iranian Navy Challenges US Navy In Key Chokepoint

Russ Read | Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

Iran’s navy sent warnings on Wednesday to a U.S. warship operating near a key shipping lane in the Persian gulf, according to reports from Iranian media.

The reports claim a U.S. Navy ship left the area near the Strait of Hormuz after the warnings were given. Approximately 18 percent of the world’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, making it “the world’s most important chokepoint” according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

“VELAYAT is an annual exercise conducted by the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy involving surface, subsurface and air units. NAVCENT is aware of this annual exercise and does not view the exercise as a change in Iran’s behavior in the region or a matter of concern,” said U.S. Navy 5th fleet spokesman, Cmdr. Kevin Stephens in a statement.

The U.S. Navy 5th fleet is responsible for keeping the Strait of Hormuz open to all maritime traffic. The sea lane used by ships is only two miles wide at its narrowest, making it a very delicate target for those who would be interested in disrupting free passage in the area. Iran’s coastline makes up the northern point which puts any ships passing through a potential target within the range of Iran’s large stockpile of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs).

“It was predictable that the U.S. warship would approach the area to collect information on [our] military operations. So we warned them twice in the morning … to keep their distance from the exercise area and keep clear of our missile range for their own safety,” said Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the Iranian fleet, to Iran’s Tasnim news Wednesday.

Iran’s navy was conducting a war game named “Velayat 94” when the ship was allegedly turned away. According to reports, several Iranian submarines, missile launchers and destroyers are participating in the exercise which Iranian media claims encompasses approximately 1.8 million square miles around the Strait and Arabian sea. According to Iran’s Tasnim news, “the Iranian Navy had warned a number of military vessels belonging to the Western coalition to leave the drill zone.” In addition, warnings were supposedly given to “all foreign ships and vessels to keep some 5 nautical miles away from the wargames zone.”

“Some still seem to be holding no belief in Iran’s naval power; hence they attempt to come close to get informed of our moves and capabilities,” said Sayyari, who claimed Monterey was spying on Iranian vessels.

The warning sent to the ship is the second run-in between the U.S. and Iranian navies. The first came in mid-January when Iran apprehended 10 U.S. navy sailors, aired their capture on state media, filmed one apologizing for their “mistake” and subsequently released them the next day. According to Iranian military officials, Iran had missiles locked-on to U.S. naval forces while the incident was ongoing.

Iran has had a long history of engaging in provocative actions threatening the Strait of Hormuz. A threat to shut-down the Strait of Hormuz was issued in 2011. After Iranian forces mined key areas in the Persian gulf, damaging a U.S. vessel in 1988, the U.S. navy engaged in Operation Praying Mantis, a strike against Iranian naval assets which destroyed several ships and emplacements.

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