Tuesday 24 April 2018

US lashes Iran over rockets fired near warships

Saturday's incident brought no immediate response from Iranian officials or media. Photo: AP
Saturday's incident brought no immediate response from Iranian officials or media. Photo: AP

Carmen James in Washington

THE US has accused Iran of launching a "highly provocative" rocket test last week near its warships and commercial traffic passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The spat exposes how tensions between the two countries could escalate even after the recent landmark nuclear deal.

The strategic Persian Gulf waterway, which sees nearly a third of all oil traded by sea pass through it, has been the scene of past confrontations between America and Iran, including a one-day naval battle in 1988.

Military vessels taking part in the war against Isil in Iraq and Syria also pass through the narrow waterway between Iran and Oman.

But Saturday's incident brought no immediate response from Iranian officials or media, while French authorities have downplayed its danger.

On Saturday, the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier, the USS Bulkeley destroyer and a French frigate, the FS Provence, were passing through the strait, said a US spokesman.

As they passed, Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels, hailing other ships in the strait over maritime radio, announced that they would be carrying out a live-fire exercise.

After 23 minutes, the Iranian boats fired "several unguided rockets" about 1,370 metres from the warships and commercial traffic, the US said.

While the rockets weren't fired in the direction of any ships, the spokesman for the US Central Command said Iran's "actions were highly provocative".

"Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognised maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional and inconsistent with international maritime law," he added.

A French military official, speaking anonymously, confirmed that the rocket fire took place on Saturday.

However, the French military did not consider it to be a threatening event as the rocket fire wasn't directed toward the Western fleet.

The French frigate is now escorting the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which is launching airstrikes against the Islamic State group, the official said.

US and Iranian forces clashed in the Strait of Hormuz in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.

On April 18, 1988, the US attacked two Iranian oil rigs and sank or damaged six Iranian vessels, including two naval frigates, after the near-sinking of the missile frigate USS Samuel B Roberts by an Iranian mine.

A few months later, in July 1988, the USS Vincennes in the strait mistook an Iran Air flight heading to Dubai for an attacking fighter jet, shooting down the plane and killing all 290 passengers and crew onboard.

Irish Independent

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