Navy: Iranian vessel aims weapon at Norfolk-based helicopter
By COURTNEY MABEUS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: November 29, 2016
NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — An Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessel trained a weapon on a Norfolk-based Navy helicopter in the Strait of Hormuz over the weekend, the Navy said Tuesday, adding one more incident to a spate of volleys between U.S. and Iranian forces in the region’s international waters.
The MH-60R Seahawk, assigned to the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Seven “Dusty Dogs,” was escorting the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower during a routine transit Saturday when it flew within a half nautical mile of two Iranian fast-attack boats, said Cmdr. Bill Urban, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command spokesman.
One of the Iranian crew members loaded and trained a boat-mounted weapon on the Navy aircraft, Urban said. No warning shots were fired and no communication was established between the U.S. and Iranian crews, and the U.S. crew did not report feeling threatened by the incident, he added.
Naval Forces Central Command called the Iranians’ use of its weapon “unsafe and unprofessional.”
Urban described the distance between the helicopter and the Iranian boats as a “safe range.” The Iranian vessels were about 5 nautical miles from the Ike, he added.
“That’s not like we’re marking on top or acting provocatively,” Urban said of the helicopter crew.
On Tuesday, an unidentified Iranian Revolutionary Guard official dismissed the U.S.’s assertions as part of a fictitious propaganda campaign, the Tasnim News Agency reported.
One in 10 interactions between U.S. and Iranian naval forces are considered unsafe or unprofessional by the Navy’s 5th Fleet, which covers the Middle East. Incidents between the two countries appeared to escalate this summer.
In August, the Navy reported several back-to-back encounters that it considered harassment, including one in which Iranian boats approached the guided missile destroyer USS Nitze in the Strait of Hormuz at high speed while it conducted a routine transit with the USS Mason. Both destroyers are Norfolk-based.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, has said he suspected Iran played a role in October missile attacks on the Mason and the Norfolk-based amphibious transport dock USS San Antonio as both transited the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen. Neither vessel was hit, and the attacks appeared to originate from Houthi rebel-controlled regions of the country, which is mired in a civil war. Iran has supported the Houthis.
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