Washington accuses Iran of firing rocket near US warships

Washington accuses Iran of firing rocket near US warships
Iranian naval vessels conducted rocket tests last week near US warships and commercial traffic passing through the Strait of Hormuz, the American military said Tuesday.
3 min read
30 December, 2015
Saturday's incident comes after a series of weapons tests and other moves by Iran [Getty]

Iranian Revolutionary Guards launched rockets near the US aircraft-carrier Harry S. Truman and other warships as they were entering the Gulf on Saturday, giving only brief notice in a "highly provocative" act, a US military spokesman said on Tuesday.  

The vital strait, a narrow waterway between Iran and Oman that is the route for nearly a third of all oil traded by sea, is crucial for ships taking part in the war against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. In the past, Iran has threatened to block the strait, which lies at the entrance of the Gulf.    

While the United States has complained previously about other Iranian war games and manoeuvres there, Saturday's incident comes after a series of weapons tests and other moves by the Islamic Republic following the nuclear deal.

Iranian media and officials did not immediately discuss the tests Wednesday.  

Cmdr. Kyle Raines, a US Central Command spokesman, said in a statement that Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval vessels fired "several unguided rockets" about 1,370 meters (1,500 yards) from the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, the USS Bulkeley destroyer and a French frigate, the FS Provence. Raines said commercial sea traffic also was nearby, though the missiles weren't fired in the direction of any ships.  

Raines said the Iranian vessels announced over maritime radio that they'd carry out a live fire exercise only 23 minutes beforehand.  

Iran's "actions were highly provocative," Raines said. "Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional and inconsistent with international maritime law."  

A French military official confirmed the rocket fire took place Saturday. However, the official said the French military did not consider it to be a threatening event as the rocket fire clearly 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.  

NBC News first reported news of the Iranian rocket fire. 

In July 1988, the USS Vincennes in the strait shot down an Iran Air flight heading to killing all 290 passengers and crew on board.

The Strait of Hormuz is only about 33 kilometres (21 miles) wide at its narrowest point between Iran and Oman. Ships traversing the chokepoint have even less room to manoeuvre. The shipping lane in either direction is only 2 miles (3.22 kilometres) wide, with a 2-mile (3.22-kilometer) buffer zone between them.  

The US Navy's 5th Fleet is based in nearby Bahrain, on the southern coast of the Gulf.  

While the US didn't retaliate to Saturday's rocket test, the Strait of Hormuz has been the scene of a battle between the two countries' navies. 

On April 18, 1988, the US two Iranian oil rigs and sunk or damaged six of its vessels, including two naval frigates, in Operation Praying Mantis. That came after the near-sinking of the missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts by an Iranian mine.