The video of the incident appears to show multiple Iranian flagged vessels, with men manning guns at the front of those ships, passing in front of a US naval vessel. The guns do not appear to be pointed at the ship, which sounds a horn multiple times as the Iranian vessels approach.
According to a statement from US Central Command, 11 Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy vessels “repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches” of the USS Lewis B. Puller, USS Paul Hamilton, USS Firebolt, USS Sirocco, USCGC Wrangell and USCGC Maui “while the US vessels were conducting joint integration operations with US Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf.”
“The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50-yard closest point of approach (CPA) and within 10 yards of Maui’s bow,” the statement said.
The dangerous encounter comes as tensions between Iran and the US remain high after more than a year of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Tehran and its January killing of Iran’s second most powerful leader, Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
President Donald Trump tweeted in early April that the US believed that “Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq” and warned that “if this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!”
US military commanders have developed options for Trump to respond in the event of other incidents, according to two defense officials.
In the meantime, Iranian leaders have accused the US of economic terrorism, saying Washington’s sanctions have made it hard to get medical supplies even as the country struggles with the coronavirus. Most recently, the US has moved to block the International Monetary Fund from providing aid to Iran to respond to the pandemic.
Wednesday’s Navy statement said US crews “issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response” from the Iranian vessels for approximately one hour until they “responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, then maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened distance between them.”
CNN has asked the Iranian government for comment.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the US has been closely monitoring the behavior of Iran and other adversaries amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“While we continue to support the whole-of-nation, whole-of-government response to this global pandemic, we continue our very important national security missions such as performing counterterrorism missions from Africa through the Middle East to Afghanistan; conducting freedom-of-navigation operations and patrolling the high seas to ensure freedom of navigation around the globe; monitoring North Korean weapons tests; improving our defensive posture in Iraq; escorting Russian bombers out of U.S. airspace; deterring Iranian bad behavior,” Milley said at a Pentagon press conference.
CNN’s Nicole Gaouette contributed to this story.