THE PENTAGON — U.S. officials confirmed they were monitoring Iranian naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, but had little to say about the activity involving up to 100 vessels and intended to showcase the nation’s desire to be the regional maritime security power.
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) exercise occurred during a time of increasing tensions between Iran and the U.S. On Monday, President Donald Trump reinstated sanctions against Iran, effective this week, in a move related to his May 2018 decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal.
“The exercise was conducted with the aim of controlling and safeguarding the security of the international waterway within the framework of the IRGC’s annual calendar exercises program,” the force’s spokesman Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif said Sunday, as reported by Tehran-based Press TV.
On Monday, as Trump finalized reinstating the sanction, comments from Iranian officials were more pointed.
“If the oil faucet is turned on and the petrodollars go to the pocket of those who threaten Iran, it will definitely have effects on the security of the strait,” said Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, Iranian Armed Forces spokesman, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.
For its part, the Pentagon said they were keeping tabs on the operations.
“Clearly we’re aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman last week,” Col. Robert Manning, the director of press operations for the Department of Defense during a media briefing Monday. “There were no unsafe or unprofessional interactions with the Iranian naval forces last week.”
A year ago, on Aug. 8 and then again on Aug. 14, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operated by Iranian forces approached the carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) while it was conducting flight operations in international waters.
“The UAV did not use any aircraft navigation lights while it made several passes in close proximity to Nimitz and its escort ships during active flight operations, coming within 1,000 feet of U.S. aircraft,” said a Navy statement released after the August 14, 2017 incident. “The failure of the Iranian UAV to utilize standard, internationally-mandated navigation lights during a nighttime approach of a U.S. aircraft carrier engaged in flight operations created a dangerous situation with the potential for collision and is not in keeping with international maritime customs and laws.”
Since last summer, though, Iranian forces have significantly curtailed their harassment of U.S. Navy vessels. In January, Iranian officials said the decrease was caused by their belief the U.S. Navy was operating differently, in a less threatening manner. U.S. Navy officials told USNI News at the time there had been no change in U.S. Navy operations in the region.
Iran scheduled this exercise at a time when the U.S. Navy is not operating a capital ship in the region. According to the USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker, as of Monday, the Navy’s nearest deployed capital ship to the Strait of Hormuz is USS Essex (LHD-2), which is operating in the Western Pacific.
U.S. 5th Fleet does have warships based at its headquarters in Bahrain which conduct regular patrols in the area. According to press reports, the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) is operating the region.
“They’re capable and they maintain an appropriate posture to respond to any contingencies in the area,” Manning said of 5th Fleet forces. “We continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways and advocate for all maritime forces to conform to international maritime customs, standards and laws.”