Iran: Another Dangerous Encounter with the US Navy

US Navy faced anther incident with Iranian naval patrol boats, when Iran conducted an “unsafe and unprofessional” encounter in international waters. 

The Iranian ship has been identified as a Houdong-class by the US Naval institute. It was within 800 yards of the USS Bataan helicopter carrier, the USS Cole guided-missile destroyer, and the USNS Washington Chambers cargo ship, when it “trained a laser on a CH-53E helicopter that accompanied the formation,” according to Commander Bill Urban, spokesman for the Navy’s fifth fleet.

Urban continued, saying that the Iranian ship shined its spotlight “from bow to stern and stern to bow before heading outbound from the  formation”. Illuminating helicopters with lasers at night is very dangerous, as it creates a navigational hazard that can impair vision and can be disorienting to pilots using night vision goggles.” 

The CH-53 fired off flares as a countermeasure to the laser, which could have caused a catastrophic crash for the Marines onboard. Fortunately, nobody was injured in the encounter.

Lawrence Brennan, a former US Navy captain and an expert of maritime law at Fordham University, speculated, “Perhaps this was a probing effort by Iran to determine US response and the rules of engagement.”

Last March, the USS Mahan, a guided-missile destroyer, had to fire warning shots at a group of fast-approaching Iranian navy ships, another example of how the Iranian navy engages in provocative maneuvers towards US Navy ships.

Iran’s small attack craft can be modified into a suicide boat, in fact, one was used by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen to damage a Saudi Arabian naval vessel. 

“At least 36 incidents have been made public, including eight this year,” Brennan said.

A majority of the incidents occurred during the presidency of Barack Obama, whose commitment to the Iran deal precluded most action against Iran. Donald Trump campaigned on making Iran pay for these  provocations. When he was a candidate in September of 2016, Trump said, ”With Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.”

So far, that hasn’t happened, but Iran’s new tactic of using lasers, and their menacing moves on US Navy ships with attack craft, appears to be calculated to keep the pressure on the US.