- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The hostile actions taken by Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats Sunday against three U.S. warships in international waters prompted a harsh warning from the White House as the president prepares for his trip to the Middle East.

“We urge the Iranians to refrain from such provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident in the future,” said Gordon Johndroe, White House national security spokesman.

Two U.S. Navy destroyers and one frigate were prepared to fire on the five Iranian “fast boats” early Sunday morning when they displayed hostile behavior by edging extraordinarily close and threatening to blow up the U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route leading into the Persian Gulf.

The Iranian boats darted back and forth across the narrow passage in an aggressive manner and turned away just as U.S. ships were on the verge of firing at them in self-defense.

Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Wright said no shots were fired by either side during the incident, but the U.S. warships were prepared to take action if needed.

“Our vessels were approached in an aggressive manner by vessels that were accessed to be Iranian,” Lt. Col. Wright added. “Our three vessels took appropriate action and were prepared to take further precautions if necessary.”

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s aggressive behavior is “cause for real concern,” adding that “it is perplexing why five small Iranian boats would confront three U.S. warships operating in international waters.”

“Such actions are dangerous and could have quickly escalated into something much worse,” Mr. Morrell said. “We see it as further evidence that Iran is unpredictable and remains a threat to regional stability.”

Coalition vessels, including U.S. Navy ships, routinely operate in the vicinity of both Iranian navy and Republican Guard vessels and aircraft in the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. Navy officials said.

The USS Port Royal, USS Hopper and USS Ingraham were steaming in formation “when five boats, suspected to be from the Islamic Republic of Iran Revolutionary Guard navy, maneuvered aggressively in close proximity of the Hopper,” the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said.

The cat-and-mouse game has been played before, but Sunday morning’s incident was an unusually aggressive and direct act by Iran, U.S. military officials said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he was not aware of any plans to formerly protest the incident.

“Without specific reference to this incident in the Strait of Hormuz, the United States will confront Iranian behavior where it seeks to do harm either to us or to our friends and allies in the region,” Mr. McCormack told reporters. “There is wide support for that within the region and certainly that’s not going to change.”

Brian Whitman, spokesman for the Pentagon, said the military will work with State Department and National Security Council officials to determine “the appropriate way to address this with the Iranian government.”

Iran’s actions come at a time when tension between Washington and Tehran has become increasingly tense over issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and suspicion that Iran is continuing to aid terrorist organizations in the region.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency that the issue was resolved after both sides identified one another.

The Strait of Hormuz “example,” he said, “was similar to previous cases and is an ordinary and natural issue…. This is an ordinary issue that happens for the two sides every once in a while and after the identification of the two sides the issue is resolved.”

The Hopper followed procedure when it issued warnings and attempted to establish communications with the small boats and conducted evasive maneuvering, the Navy said.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. officials heard Iranians over the radio say “we’re coming at you and you’ll explode in a couple minutes.”

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