US Navy warship fires warning flare to Iranian speed boats
21st June 2022

US Navy warship fires warning flare to Iranian Revolutionary Guard speed boats that buzz past including one that turns head-on during latest tense stand-off in Strait of Hormuz

  • A US warship fired a warning flare to wave off an Iranian speedboat on Monday
  • The boat was speeding at it during a tense encounter in the Strait of Hormuz
  • Tensions remain high over stalled negotiations of Iran’s tattered nuclear deal

American and Iranian warships nearly crashed on Monday after three speedboats zoomed past US Army counterparts at high speed.

The Navy said one of three of the Guard fast crafts raced head-on at the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Sirocco before changing course. 

The US Navy warship had to fire a warning flare to wave off the Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat coming straight at it before turning head on during a tense encounter in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, officials said Tuesday.

The incident on Monday involving the Guard and the Navy comes as tensions remain high over stalled negotiations over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers and as Tehran enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels under decreasing international oversight.

Meanwhile, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said Iran now plans to enrich uranium through a second set of advanced centrifuges at its underground Fordo facility amid the standoff.

In this US Navy photo, a boat of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) operates in close proximity to patrol coastal ship USS Sirocco (PC 6) and expeditionary fast transport USNS Choctaw County (T-EPF 2) in the Strait of Hormuz, June 20, 2022

In this image from a video made available by the US Navy, a boat of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) operates in close proximity to patrol coastal ship USS Sirocco (PC 6) and expeditionary fast transport USNS Choctaw County (T-EPF 2) in the Strait of Hormuz

The Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Sirocco and Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport USNS Choctaw County found themselves in the close encounter with three Iranian fast boats while coming through the Strait of Hormuz to enter the Persian Gulf, the Navy said.

In a video released by the Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, a high-speed Guard Boghammar is seen turning head-on toward the Sirocco.

The Sirocco repeatedly blows its horn at the Boghammar, which turns away as it closes in. The flare shot can be heard, but not seen, as the Boghammar passes the Sirocco with the Iranian flag flying above it.

The Navy said the Boghammar came within 50 yards of the Sirocco, raising the risk of the vessels running into each other. The overall encounter lasted about an hour, the Navy said.

The Guard’s ‘actions did not meet international standards of professional or safe maritime behavior, increasing the risk of miscalculation and collision,’ the Navy said.

Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident in the strategic waterway – a fifth of all traded oil passes through the strait.

The Navy separately told The Associated Press that this marked the second so-called ‘unsafe and unprofessional’ incident it had with Iran in recent months.

On March 4, three Guard ships had a tense encounter for over two hours with Navy and US Coast Guard vessels as they traveled out of the Persian Gulf through the strait, the Navy said.

In that incident, the Guard’s catamaran Shahid Nazeri came within 25 yards of the USCGC Robert Goldman, the Navy said.

‘The two US Coast Guard cutters issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and deployed warning flares,’ the Navy said.

The Navy did not elaborate on why it did not announce the previous incident, particularly since a larger vessel came even closer to an American warship.

However, that was just as a deal in Vienna between Iran and world powers on restoring the nuclear deal looked possible, before the talks broke down.

Iran and world powers agreed in 2015 to the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

in 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord, raising tensions across the wider Middle East and sparking a series of attacks and incidents.

Talks in Vienna about reviving the deal have been on a ‘pause’ since March. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran has been running advanced centrifuges and rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium.

An image grab from footage obtained from Iranian State TV IRIB on July 29, 2020, reportedly shows a speedboat launching a missile during the last day of Iranian military exercises near sensitive Gulf waters in the Strait of Hormuz

Iranian boats take part in naval war game in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz southern Iran April 22, 2010

Earlier this month as well, Iran removed 27 surveillance cameras of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. The agency’s head warned it could deal a ‘fatal blow’ to the nuclear deal.

On Tuesday, the IAEA said its inspectors verified Iran was preparing to enrich uranium through a new cascade of 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Fordo facility.

Already, Iran has one cascade of IR-6s operating at Fordo, near the holy Shiite city of Qom, some 55 miles southwest of Tehran. They enrich up to 20% purity.

The IAEA said Iran has not told it yet the level at which the second cascade will be enriching. Iran has yet to publicly acknowledge the new cascade.

The 2015 nuclear deal prohibited all enrichment at Fordo. Shielded by mountains, the facility is ringed by anti-aircraft guns and other fortifications.

It is about the size of a football field, large enough to house 3,000 centrifuges, but small and hardened enough to lead US officials to suspect it had a military purpose when they exposed the site publicly in 2009.

Amid the tensions, Israel is suspected of carrying out a series of attacks in and outside of Iran targeting the country, including the killing of the architect of its one-time military nuclear program with a remote-controlled machine gun.

On Tuesday, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted the prosecutor of Iran’s southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province as alleging three people arrested in April there on suspicion of working with Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency wanted to kill Iranian nuclear scientists.

It’s unclear why the three would have been in Sistan and Baluchistan, which has no nuclear sites.

The restive province that borders Afghanistan and Pakistan faces sporadic attacks from armed insurgent groups.

Israel’s defense minister Benny Gantz warned that Iran is building new underground facilities to purify uranium in advanced centrifuges

A man celebrates with Israeli flags as Israeli Air Force planes fly in formation. The Israeli airforce will drill striking targets outside the borders of Israel, in preparation for nuclear talks failing between the West and Iran

The news comes after exiled opposition sources accused Iran of setting up a committee to deceive the UN atomic watchdog and build devices capable of denoting nuclear weapons in secret.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) accused the Islamic Republic of developing so-called ‘exploding-bridgewire detonators’ by sending the UN forged documents that stated they were needed for oil drilling.

The devices can be used for detonating implosion-type nuclear weapons, and are monitored by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

NCRI foreign affairs committee member Shahin Gobadi said Iran’s intention was to ‘hoodwink the international community’ to ‘prevent the exposure of its ominous objective of obtaining the nuclear bomb’.

Tehran had forged documents and exchanged communication between the Oil Ministry and the Defense Ministry to prove that the exploding-bridgewire detonators (EBWs) were produced and used for oil drilling, according to the NCRI.

This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on April 7, 2021

Centrifuge machines at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility. The IAEA said in a March report that Iran had installed or planned to install a total of three IR6 cascades, amounting to around 660 machines, at new underground sites near Natanz

Iran set up a secret committee to deceive the UN nuclear watchdog by falsifying information over the development of devices used to detonate implosion-style nuclear weapons. Rafael Grossi, Director General of the IAEA, is pictured

But it said the National Iranian Drilling Company has not received even one of the EBW detonators produced by the Ministry of Defence.

On June 8, the UN passed a draft resolution criticizing Iran for failing to fully explain uranium traces at undeclared sites.

Israel accused Iran of purifying uranium at sites under construction near its Natanz nuclear plant.

In 2002, the NCRI previously exposed a secret Uranium enrichment site in Natanz and a heavy water reactor in Arak. 

The United States, France, Britain and Germany put the draft resolution to the board, which passed on Wednesday.

The bill is the first to criticize Iran since June 2020, when tensions were running hot over the attempted revival of the nuclear deal.

This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows an overview of launch pad activity at Imam Khomeini Space Center southeast of Semnan, Iran on June 14, 2022. Iran appeared to be readying for a space launch as satellite images showed a rocket on a rural desert launch pad, just as tensions remain high over Tehran’s nuclear programme

The foreign ministries of the four Western nations issued a joint statement condemning Iran’s ‘insufficient cooperation with the IAEA on serious and outstanding safeguards issues’, relating to its nuclear activities. 

Iranian authorities have also acknowledged plans to test its new solid-fueled rocket after satellite photos showed preparations at a desert launch pad previously used in the program.

The Islamic Republic will launch its satellite-carrying Zuljanah rocket twice more after conducting a previous launch, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Defence Ministry spokesman Ahmad Hosseini as saying.

One set of images showed a rocket on a transporter, preparing to be lifted and put on a launch tower. A later image showed the rocket apparently on the tower.

Though it isn’t clear when the launch will take place, erecting a rocket typically means a launch is imminent. NASA fire satellites, which detect flashes of light from space, did not immediately see any activity over the site late Tuesday night into Wednesday.

What is the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal?

In early May 2018, then-President Donald Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement to place significant restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The deal was signed under former President Barak Obama’s administration in 2015 between Iran and the P5+1, which includes China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, as well as the United States.

The initial aim was to unwind Iran’s nuclear program to the point that if Tehran decided to pursue a nuclear weapon it would take at least one year to develop, giving world powers time to respond.

At the time, US intelligence officials estimated that without an agreement, Iran could produce enough nuclear material for a weapon in a few months. 

After President Joe Biden entered the Oval Office, Washington and Tehran have both said they would return to the original deal, but they disagree on the steps to get there.

Under its terms, Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear program and open its facilities to more extensive international inspections in exchange for the US and other countries lifting sanctions, worth billions to Iran’s economy.

Iran’s compliance with the nuclear-related provisions of the JCPOA is verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an agency which recently said the country has not been transparent about the presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites in Iran.

By October 2023, the UN was supposed to lift missile restrictions under the initial agreement, whereas the EU was to terminate all remaining nuclear sanctions and the US was supposed to remove most sanctions.

But in retaliation for the US departure and for deadly attacks on prominent Iranians in 2020, including one by the United States, Iran has resumed some of its nuclear activities. 

As of May 2022, it is looking increasingly unlikely a deal can be finalised according to schedule.

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