U.S.-Iran naval confrontation in Gulf raises tensions
While the US State Department demands an explanation, Iran's Foreign Ministry calls the incident 'normal.'
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Cosgriff said it's dangerous for Iranian boats to provoke American ships in such a way because US naval ships are prepared to defend themselves as they ramp up their procedures in response to a threat.Skip to next paragraph
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"When they act that way, it raises the possibility of a miscalculation on their part and that someone might take it too far as we are stepping through our procedures," he said.
Although the US Navy has routine encounters with Iranian ships in the region, including those belonging to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, most exchanges are proper and without incident, he said.
Iran's Foreign Ministry minimized the incident on Monday, saying that it was "something normal," a characterization that Cosgriff disagreed with.
"What we're doing now is reviewing the situation and trying to make a determination to see what level we would lodge some form of formal protest or discussions with the Iranians with this thing," says a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Also on Monday, two F-18 Hornet jetfighters based on the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman now in the Persian Gulf, crashed into waters there. Two pilots and one crew member were recovered and are in good condition, but both planes were lost at sea, Navy officials said. The incident did not appear to be related to the confrontation between the Iranian and US navies.
The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passageway between Iran, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, is a strategically critical waterway through which as much as 40 percent of the world's oil exports are shipped. Last March, Iranian naval vessels captured 15 British Royal Navy sailors and Marines and held them for nearly two weeks before releasing them in what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said was an Easter present to the British people.
The US and its allies have long been concerned that Iran could block the passageway, crippling oil shipments out of the Gulf, according to Anthony Cordesman, a senior security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"While the threat from Iran's conventional military may be real, the more dangerous threat is that of extremists groups' asymmetric attacks on oil facilities," he wrote in a 2006 report. "There is no attack-proof security system. It may take only one asymmetric or conventional attack on ... tankers in the Strait of Hormuz to throw the market into a spiral."