US commander slams Iran for belligerence in Gulf

Gen. Joseph Votel, the top commander of US forces in the Middle East, sharply criticized Iran on Tuesday for last week’s provocations by Iranian patrol boats against US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf.

Votel, commander of US Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon that this incident and other similar ones involving Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) naval forces are worrying because they risk setting off a full-blown conflict.

“What we see with the Iranians is not particularly responsible,” Votel stated. “It is provocative, in some cases; it’s unsafe. And it can lead to situations where we may not be able to de-escalate in a time before something happens.”

The US maintains a formidable presence in the Gulf and thus has frequent encounters with Iranian vessels.

Last Wednesday, the USS Squall fired three warning shots on an Iranian boat that was heading directly towards the USS Tempest. US officials said the Iranian boat came within 200 yards of the Tempest and ignored several radio calls and warning flares.

It was one of three such dangerous encounters that US ships had with IRGC boats in the Gulf that day.

One day earlier, four Iranian boats had approached the USS Nitze, at high speed in the Strait of Hormuz. The boats broke off contact after the Nitze fired flares.

Votel praised the US sailors’ handling of the incidents. He said the problem was specifically with the IRGC’s naval forces, which have been accused by the US numerous times of provocative behavior in the region.

“So this is, in my view, not about the Iranian people,” Votel said. “It’s about the Iranian regime and their desire to continue to do these types of things that stoke instability or attempt to stoke instability in the region.”

Since the signing of the nuclear deal last year, the Iranians have exhibited belligerence in several military-related incidents.

Last December, the Iranians fired rockets near a US warship and other vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, and a month later flew a drone over the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

By: World Israel News Staff
AP contributed to this report.