The head of US Central Command (CENTCOM) called on Iran on Tuesday to stop what he said were "provocative" actions in the Gulf and accused the Iranian leadership of trying to create instability in the region.
CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing that Iran was alone is carrying out what he said was the "unprofessional" harassment of navy vessels in international waters.
"I guess I would point out this, is that Iran's actions here, in the Arabian Gulf, are unlike anybody else. No one else does what they do in the Arabian Gulf. They don't go out and they don't drive fast boats towards military vessels in the same way that they do. Nobody else does that in international waters. And so what I call on Iran to do is to be the professional force that they claim to be. Professional militaries, professional maritime forces don't operate in that way," he said.
On August 25th four of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessels "harassed" a US warship on Tuesday near the Strait of Hormuz, a US defense official said. The official said that two of the Iranian vessels came within 300 yards of the USS Nitze.
The US defense official said that in Tuesday's incident the USS Nitze tried to communicate with the Iranian vessels 12 times, but received no response. It also fired 10 flares in the direction of two of the Iranian vessels. Votel said that there is a danger incidents of that kind could escalate.
"What we see with the Iranians is not particularly responsible. It is provocative in some cases, it's unsafe and it can lead to situations where we may not be able to deescalate in a time before something happens," he said.
IRGC, the Islamic Republic's praetorian guard, is suspicious of US military activity near Iran's borders and appears to be sticking to a familiar posture in the Gulf that predates last year's nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers, including the United States. Votel blamed the confrontations in the Gulf on a specific faction in the Iranian government that he said is trying to destabilize the region.
"What I see is this is principally the regime leadership trying to exert their influence and authority in the region and they are trying to do it in provocative ways that are unsafe, unprofessional and really I think work against their objectives in the long term here. But I'd want to emphasize that, you know, about 90 percent of these unsafe, unprofessional activities that we see come from the Iranian Quds Force navy vessels, they don't come from the general Iranian navy. Only a very, very small percentage of them do. So this in my view is not about the Iranian people it's about the Iranian regime and their desire to continue to do these type of things that stoke instability, or attempt to stoke instability in the region," he said.
The Quds Force is the elite extra-territorial special forces arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which reports directly to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The uptick in naval confrontations come at a time when the US and its allies are concerned about Iran's posture in Syria, Iraq and the Arabian Gulf. The United States and other countries are concerned about Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its ballistic missile program, and its backing for Shiite militias that have abused civilians in Iraq.