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In Veiled Warning to Iran, US Tells Gulf Mariners to Stay Clear of its Warships

In Veiled Warning to Iran, US Tells Gulf Mariners to Stay Clear of its Warships

Wednesday, 20 May, 2020 - 04:45
The US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge sail in the Arabian Sea May 17, 2019. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

In an alert that appeared aimed squarely at Iran, the US Navy issued a warning on Tuesday to mariners in the Gulf to stay 100 meters (yards) away from US warships or risk being “interpreted as a threat and subject to lawful defensive measures.”

The notice to mariners, which was first reported by Reuters, follows US President Donald Trump’s threat last month to fire on any Iranian ships that harass Navy vessels.

"Armed vessels approaching within 100 meters of a US naval vessel may be interpreted as a threat," according to the text of the notice.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new notice to mariners was not a change in the US military’s rules of engagement.

Hours later, Iran said its navy will maintain regular missions in the Gulf, the ISNA news agency reported on Wednesday.

"The naval units of the Republic of Iran in the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman will continue their regular missions in accordance with professional principles as in the past," INSA quoted an unnamed military official as saying.

The Pentagon has stated that Trump’s threat was meant to underscore the Navy’s right to self-defense.

The Bahrain-based US Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement that its notice was “designed to enhance safety, minimize ambiguity and reduce the risk of miscalculation.”

It follows an incident last month in which 11 Iranian vessels came close to US Navy and Coast Guard ships in the Gulf, in what the US military called “dangerous and provocative” behavior.

At one point, the Iranian vessels came within 10 yards (9 meters) of the US Coast Guard cutter Maui, the US military said.

Trump’s threat followed that incident, which Tehran, in turn, said was the fault of the United States.

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards responded to Trump by threatening to destroy US warships if its security is threatened in the Gulf.

The back-and-forth is just latest example of razor-sharp tension between Washington and Tehran, which has steadily escalated since 2018, when Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed crippling sanctions.

Animosity reached historic heights in early January, when the United States killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad.

Iran retaliated on Jan. 9 by firing missiles at bases in Iraq, causing brain injuries among US troops at one of them.

Close interactions with Iranian military vessels were not uncommon in 2016 and 2017. On several occasions, US Navy ships fired warning shots at Iranian vessels when they got too close.

But Iran had halted such maneuvers before the April incident.

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