United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Gulf II: Timeline of U.S.-Iran Encounters

Michael Connell
 

         Iranian and U.S. naval forces have had sporadic and sometimes hostile interactions since the 1980s.                 

·May 13, 1984: After repeated Iraqi attacks on Iranian shipping and refining facilities, Iran retaliated with attacks on neutral shipping. The tit-for-tat exchanges initiated the so-called Tanker War. The first vessel struck by Iran was the Kuwaiti tanker Umm Casbah. The United States responded by bolstering the capabilities of its Arab allies in the Gulf and increasing its own military presence in the region. Shortly afterward, Speaker of Parliament Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani declared, “Either the Persian Gulf will be safe for all or no one.”
 
·July 24, 1987: The United States began to reflag and escort Kuwaiti tankers to protect them from Iranian attacks. The operation, codenamed “Ernest Will,” was the largest of its kind since World War II. On the first escort mission, the Kuwaiti tanker al Rekkah, reflagged as the MV Bridgeton, struck an Iranian mine, suffering minor damage.
 
·Sept. 19, 1987: U.S. forces attacked and captured the Iranian logistical vessel Iran Ajr ( above), after it was caught dropping mines in the Persian Gulf.
 
·Oct. 19, 1987: U.S. naval forces destroyed two Iranian oil platforms in the Rostam Oil Field. The operation—codenamed “Nimble Archer”—was in retaliation for an Iranian attack on the Kuwaiti-owned, U.S.-flagged tanker, the MV Sea Island City.
 
·April 14, 1988: The U.S. frigate Samuel B. Roberts, which was escorting tankers in the Gulf, struck an Iranian mine. It suffered extensive damage. U.S. forces retaliated with Operation Praying Mantis, destroying two Iranian oil platforms—both of which were believed to be important Revolutionary Guards Navy staging bases—and disabling or sinking several Iranian regular navy surface assets.
 
·July 3, 1988: The USS Vincennes, a Navy guided missile cruiser, shot down Iran Air Flight 655, bound from Bandar Abbas to Dubai, with the loss of all 290 of its passengers and crew. According to U.S. officials, the crew of the Vincennes, who were operating in a warzone, mistook the airliner for a hostile Iranian aircraft. Tehran claimed that the downing was deliberate.
 
·June 21, 2004: IRGC naval forces captured six British Royal Navy sailors and two Royal Marines in the disputed waters of the Shatt al-Arab, along the southern boundary between Iran and Iraq. Tehran claimed that the British had strayed into Iranian waters. The captured sailors and marines were released following negotiations. The British personnel had been operating as part of a U.S.-led naval coalition in the Gulf.
 
·March 23, 2007: Revolutionary Guard Navy forces seized 15 British Royal Navy personnel while the latter conducted a routine boarding of merchant vessels off the coast between Iraq and Iran. Britain claimed its personnel were operating in Iraqi territorial waters. But the Iranians claimed the British had illegally entered their territorial waters. The British personnel were released after 13 days.
 
·Jan. 6, 2008: Five high-speed Revolutionary Guard boats engaged in aggressive maneuvering against three U.S. vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. During the incident, one of the small boats placed what appeared to be small white boxes in the path of the three U.S. vessels. A threatening radio transmission also was heard on a commonly used maritime frequency. It was subsequently determined that the radio transmissions probably came from a third-party heckler, a concept known to mariners as the “Filipino Monkey.”
 
·Jan. 6, 2012: IRGC Navy small boats harassed the USS New Orleans, an amphibious transport ship, while the latter was transiting the Strait of Hormuz. On the same day, Iranian small boats also harassed the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak, which was operating 75 miles east of Kuwait City. U.S. Navy officials said the small boats came within several hundred yards of both vessels and did not respond to queries or whistles, as is standard for maritime protocol.
 
·Nov. 1, 2012: Iranian Air Force fighter jets fired on a U.S. Predator drone over the Gulf, but failed to bring it down. Iranian officials claimed that the Predator was conducting a reconnaissance mission near Bushehr, the site of Iran’s only nuclear power plant.
 
 
Michael Connell is director of Iranian Studies at the Center for Naval Analyses, a non-profit institution that conducts research and analysis in Washington D.C.
 
Photo Credit: Ajr mine laying ship by Service Depicted, Command Shown: N1601 Camera Operator: PH3 CLEVELAND (ID:DNSC8712581) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 
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