Video: Iran Test-Fires Rockets Near US Ships

January 10, 2016
On January 9, the U.S. military released a video showing what it says is an Iranian military vessel firing several unguided rockets near the U.S. aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, U.S. destroyer Bulkeley, a French frigate, and commercial craft. No vessels were hit during the December 26 incident, which occurred in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for some 40 percent of the world’s oil tanker traffic.
 
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Navy (IRGCN) announced its live-fire exercise 23 minutes before it began, according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). The rockets landed some 1,370 yards away from the ships. “These actions were highly provocative, unsafe, and unprofessional and call into question Iran's commitment to the security of a waterway vital to international commerce,” a CENTCOM spokesman, Navy Commander Kyle Raines, said in an email to the Military Times. “While most interactions between Iranian forces and the U.S. Navy are professional, safe, and routine, this event was not and runs contrary to efforts to ensure freedom of navigation and maritime safety in the global commons.”
 
The IRGCN, however, denied the U.S. claims. “The Guards' naval force had no exercise in the past week when the Americans claim that a missile or rocket was fired in the Hormuz Strait area,” said spokesman Ramezan Sharif. He likened the accusation to “psychological warfare.”
 

Iranian and U.S. naval forces have had sporadic and sometimes hostile interactions since the 1980s. The following is a rundown originally compiled by Michael Connell for The Iran Primer in 2013 that has since been updated.   

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.
 
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.
 
Aug. 26, 2014: A U.S. Coast Guard vessel operating in international waters in the Persian Gulf fired a warning shot on an Iranian dhow after the crew turned a machine gun on the Americans with hostile intent. Admiral Ali Fadavi, the IRGCN chief, seemed to mock the Coast Guard. “Americans feared and felt danger from a fishing dhow,” and “should be fearful” whenever they are in the Gulf, he said.
 
Late December 2014: An Iranian patrol aircraft warned the destroyer U.S.S. Gridley to leave an area that the Iranian military was using for an exercise.

March 2015: An Iranian military observation plane flew within 50 yards of an armed U.S. Navy helicopter over the Persian Gulf.
 
Late April 2015: A nine-ship Iranian naval convoy, that could have been carrying arms to Houthi rebels, traveled towards Yemen. But the United States dispatched an aircraft carrier and guided missile cruiser to the area. By April 24, the Iranian and U.S. ships had turned away from Yemen. Defense Department officials said the ships were sent to reassure Saudi Arabia of U.S. support and to indicate to Iran that the United States would not allow weapons shipments to Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to The New York Times.
 
April 28, 2015: An Iranian Navy ship fired shots across the bridge of the Maersk Tigris container ship and Iranian personnel boarded the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel. (The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a sovereign nation for which the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense.) U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain (Navcent) answered a distress call from the Maersk Tigris. Navcent directed a guided-missile destroyer to monitor the situation as well as other maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. The vessel was taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas due to a legal dispute between the Danish company chartering the vessel and Iranian law firm. On May 7, the ship and its crew were released.
 
Dec. 26, 2015: An Iranian military vessel fired several unguided rockets toward U.S. and French military vessels and commercial craft in international waters, according to U.S. military officials. 
 
 
 
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