Though the Iranians on Wednesday posted drone images of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group transiting the Strait of Hormuz, Navy officials say there have been no unsafe interactions with their forces in that strategic waterway since April.
The aircraft carrier Nimitz and its strike group transited the strait and arrived on station Sept. 18, said Navy Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. Rebarich would not comment on the images posted by Iranian media and tweeted by the INTELSky military aircraft tracking site Wednesday morning, but said that the carrier began launching flight operations over Syria and Iraq that day.
“There have been no unsafe or unprofessional interactions with the Iranians since April 15,” said Rebarich. That was the day 11 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps speedboats swarmed U.S. naval vessels in the North Arabian Gulf.
That incident prompted a stern warning from President Donald Trump, who tweeted “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,”
And while Iran shouldn’t be surprised if next time one of its speedboats zigzags in front a U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf and it ends up blown out of the water, it’s not a new rule of engagement, officials said in April.
That is the message from both senior Pentagon leadership and Trump, a week after video surfaced of 11 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps speedboats swarming several Navy ships, prompting Trump to tweet his threat.
Two senior defense officials, who briefed reporters April 23, said they could not confirm whether the tweet amounted to a direct order to commanding officers in the gulf.
“The president issued an important warning to the Iranians,” Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said. “What he was emphasizing is, all of our ships retain the right of self-defense.”
When asked whether the traditional harassment ― including years of approaches by these fast boats ― should now be met with lethal force, Norquist said he would not weigh in on “hypothetical” situations.
A defense official told Navy Times Wednesday that this is Iranian holy defense week, and every year at this time the Iranians put on public displays of their different weapons in a huge parade, but they could not do it this year due to health concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. So instead, this year, the Iranians displayed different types of drones, the official explained, accompanied by a media campaign.
While there were no safety issues with this transit, “there is always a concern” about Iranian drones, the defense official said. “That is why we continue to monitor the situation.”
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.