A US aircraft carrier sailed into the Persian Gulf on Friday amid Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, the only sea passage from the Gulf to the open ocean and strategic waterway linking Middle East crude producers to crucial world markets.
Some 30 Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels fired rockets in the waters patrolled by a US aircraft carrier strike group led by USS John C. Stennis on Friday, the AP reported. At one point, one small ship launched what looked like a “commercial-grade” drone to film the US vessels, said the AP report, adding that journalists on the Stennis were also filming the Iranian boats.
“The Iranian craft drove in front of our ship and stopped, and tried to capture their own sort of picture of what was going on”, Capt. Randy Peck, the commanding officer of the Stennis, was cited by AP as saying. There were no immediate reports of the Stennis’ arrival in the Persian Gulf in Iranian media. The US Navy statement also noted that IRGC speedboats fired rockets that weren't pointed at American vessels.
The Stennis-led group was deployed on December 8, thus ending the longest period in two decades that a carrier group was absent from the region. The vessels took part in a joint naval exercise with the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) on 12 December in the Arabian Sea.
Earlier on Friday, Mehr News Agency quoted Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, commander of IRG ground forces, as saying that the final stage of the “Great Prophet 12” drills would kick off on Saturday and include “rapid reaction units, airborne units, demolition and combat units, mid-range missiles and the third marine division”.
“We pose no threat to any country but if the enemies seek to implement their malicious intentions and attack us, we will be absolutely aggressive and attack the enemies with all might and we are practicing these tactics in these exercises”, Mehr News Agency cited Pakpour as saying.
Tensions between the two countries have further escalated since US President Donald Trump announced the decision to withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, which saw anti-Iran sanctions lifted in exchange for Tehran maintaining the peaceful nature of its nuclear prograe.
Trump also decided to reinstate all sanctions and introduce a new set of restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s energy, shipping, financial and other sectors, with a stated goal to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero.
Iran’s military leadership, in turn, has repeatedly warned against any provocations, threatening to close off the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf and the only outlet through which all ship traffic passes.