A reading list of US-Iran Gulf tensions in light of the April 2020 IRGC fast boat incident


What follows is a reading list about the April 15, 2020 incident in the Gulf in which 11 IRGC vessels harassed US ships. It presents a history of similar incidents going back to 2016.

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Iranian IRGC fast boats (US Navy)

The photos

On April 15, 2020 the US Navy released details about Iranian IRGC fast boats harassing US vessels.

“NORTH ARABIAN GULF (April 15, 2020) Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels conducted unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. Military ships by crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range while operating in international waters of the North Arabian Gulf. The guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) is conducting joint interoperability operations in support of maritime security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo).” 

See link.

The statement

The Navy also put out a longer statement:

NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BAHRAIN (NNS) — On April 15, eleven Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches of the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), USS Firebolt (PC 10), USS Sirocco (PC 6), USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332) and USCGC Maui (WPB 1304) while the U.S. vessels were conducting joint integration operations with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf. The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50 yard closest point of approach (CPA) and within 10 yards of Maui’s bow. The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long-range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response from the IRGCN. After approximately one hour, the IRGCN vessels responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, then maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened distance between them. 

The IRGCN’s dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision, were not in accordance with the internationally recognized Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) “rules of the road” or internationally recognized maritime customs, and were not in accordance with the obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area. The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Army have been conducting joint interoperability operations in the North Arabian Gulf since late March. U.S. naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense.

Early reports had appeared atCNN by Barbara Starr. “Just in to CNN: Eleven Iranian IRGCN vessels repeatedly conducted “dangerous and harassing approaches” with US Navy warships in the North Arabian Sea on Wednesday, one ship came with 10 yards of colliding with U.S. Navy, the U.S. Navy said in a statement. Video coming up soon.” Video here.


Iran’s response

Iran’s Press TV said that the US was rolling the dice and gambling with disaster in the Gulf.

Iran said on April 17 that it has a new energy agreement with Qatar.


April 9, 2020: U.S. Army AH-64EApache attack helicopters with 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadron, conducted deck-landing qualifications (DLQ) aboard the expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) from March 23-27 in the 5th Fleet area of operations. “(We were able to) expand interoperability between the Army and the Navy within this area of responsibility and providing a greater capability if necessary,” said Oliver. “Especially if we are going to deploy an immediate reaction force or a multifunctional aviation task force.”

USS Normandy seizes weapons from ship smuggling to Yemen, 9 February 2020.

Weapons seized by the USS Normandy in February included anti-­tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, and various electronic components for unmanned systems. (US Central Command); see NYT report. Reuters: “A U.S. Navy warship seized weapons believed to be of Iranian “design and manufacture,” including 150 anti-tank guided missiles and three Iranian surface-to-air missiles, the American military said on Thursday.”

January 30, 2020

The UK Royal Navy has assumed command of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

December 27, 2019

Iran, Russia and China conduct joint navaldrill.

USS Forrest Sherman intercepts dhow 25 November 2019

USS Forrest Sherman seized “351” land attack cruise missiles that matched those used against the Aramco sites. (US Central Command).

November 24, 2019, 2019

French Defence Minister Florence Parly has announced that a French naval base in Abu Dhabi, opened in 2009 and known as “Peace Camp,” will serve as the headquarters for a new European-led maritime security mission for the Gulf.

September 27, 2019

The British-flagged oil tanker that was seized by Iran two months ago left Iranian waters

September 14, 2019 Abqaiq attacked by 25 drones and cruise missiles

Reuters: These people said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the operation, but with strict conditions: Iranian forces must avoid hitting any civilians or Americans.

August 17, 2019

Saudi Arabia’s Shaybah oil field, the target of a drone attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels .

August 5, 2019

Britain on Monday joined the United States in a maritime security mission in the Gulf to protect merchant vessels travelling in the Gulf.

July 20, 2019

The Mesdar’s Glasgow-based operator Norbulk Shipping UK said communication had been re-established with the vessel Stena Impero after it was boarded by Iran.

July 17, 2019

“A fixed-wing unmanned aerial system (UAS) approached Boxer and closed within a threatening range. The ship took defensive action against it.”

The Verge: In a statement, the Department of Defense confirmed that the USS Boxer was moving through the Strait of Hormuz when it was approached by a fixed-wing drone which “closed within a threatening range,” which prompted the ship’s crew to take “defensive action.” Iran has denied the allegation. According to C4ISRNET, the Marines aboard the USS Boxer used a new system called a MRZR LMADIS — a Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System. The system is mounted on a Polaris MRZR vehicle, which has appeared in DoD photos of the ship. USNI News says that it’s the “first known kill by a new generation of electronic warfare and directed energy weapons” by the US.”

July 4, 2019

 A detachment of nearly 30 British troops working with the Gibraltarian police intercepted the vessel,

June 21, 2019

India’s navy has deployed two ships in the Gulf of Oman to ensure safe passage for Indian-flagged vessels, the country’s defense ministry said

June 20, 2019

Iran shoots down US Global Hawk. Janes: ” Iran’s claim it shot down a Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at a range of about 70 km Iran credited a 3 Khordad.” Iran didn’t down a P-8 at the same time; “The P8 was nearby when the drone was downed, and captured photos of the incident, CENTCOM officials said Friday.”

June 13, 2019

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blames Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

May 14, 2019

Armed drones attacked two oil pumpingstations in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in what Riyadh called a “cowardly” act. Kataib Hezbollah may have launched them from Iraq.

May 13, 2019

Four commercial ships were targets of a “sabotage attack” off the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday, the country’s foreign affairs ministry

April 27, 2019 Iran drone footage of Eisenhower

The report included footage apparently from a Guard drone that flew over the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and another U.S. warship, although footage might be “years old.”

March 14, 2019 

Iran conducts massive drone drill ‘road to Jerusalem’.

February 21, 2019 Iran Velayat naval drill

Iran announces 3-day navy drill from Gulf to Indian Ocean. … Dubbed as “Velayat 97,” the drill will showcase Iran’s submarines, warships.

January 14, 2019

Report: Trump asked Mattis for plan to destroy Iranian fast boats.


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The Essex incident

October 26, 2018

Iranian Navy fast boats came close to the USS Essex, a U.S. Navy assault ship, and at least one of the other ships in the group…Two Iranian fast attack boats came within 300 yards of USS Essex in the Persian Gulf Friday while the four star head of the US Central Joseph Votel was on board…Capt. Brian Muttay, the Essex’s commander, told NBC News that the encounter was “annoying,” but it was not “unsafe and unprofessional,” Navy officials said Friday, nor did it appear related to the visit by Votel, who oversees US forces in the Middle East.

“Iranian boats performed similar maneuvers around the Essex and the ships accompanying it regularly, sometimes several times a week, Navy officials told The Post. On Friday, a total of six Iranian vessels approached the Essex’s amphibious ready group.”


August 14, 2017

“The last ‘unsafe and unprofessional‘ encounter taking place on August 14, 2017, when an Iranian drone without any navigation lights flew close to aircraft conducting night-landing operations on the US aircraft carrier Nimitz.

April 26, 2017

US navy vessel USS Mahan fires flare at Iran ships.

March 21, 2017

Three Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats are seen near the U.S. aircraft carrier, USS George H. W. Bush while transiting Straits of Hormuz as U.S. Navy helicopter hovers over them during early hours of March 21, 2017. Reuters: “They spoke after the U.S. aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush confronted what one of the commanding officers described as two sets of Iranian Navy fast-attack boats that had approached a U.S.-led, five-vessel flotilla as it entered the Strait on Tuesday on a journey from the Indian Ocean into the Gulf.”

January 13, 2016

Iran Releases 10 Captured U.S. Navy SailorsIran released 10 U.S. sailors on Wednesday after holding them overnight, bringing a swift end to an incident that had rattled nerves days ahead of the expected implementation of a landmark nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers.

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