DUBAI: The top U.S. Navy official in the Middle East said on Sunday that after months of regional attacks and seizures at sea, America has entered an uneasy deterrence with Iran, even though concerns over the nuclear programme between Washington and Tehran remain strong.
In comments to the annual Manama Dialogue organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Vice Admiral Sam Paparo, who oversees the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain, struck a scholarly note.
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He mentioned having a healthy regard for both the regular Iranian navy and its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard naval forces.
“They have attained uncomfortable deterrent. The vice admiral said that this uneasy deterrent is compounded by global affairs and by events along the way. But I found that Iranian maritime activity was careful and circumspect and polite, not to risk needless miscalculation or escalation at sea.
Although Iran in recent months has not specifically intercepted or attacked a tanker like it did last year a mine hit an oil tanker off Saudi Arabia and in recent days a container ship off Yemen has been under attack. The accusation of being behind both attacks automatically dropped on Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The Houthis did not elaborate about any of them.
Paparo, a retired Navy fighter pilot who most recently served as the U.S. military’s Central Command’s Chief of Operations, gave a different approach than his immediate predecessor, Vice Adm. James Malloy. Malloy referred to Iran as careless and threatening in one of his last statements to journalists in August and often sought to lower the denominator in dramatic naval exercises until they were confident they might appear like they had achieved something.
Malloy’s tenure saw Iran seizing oil tankers and a string of limpet mine blasts hitting tankers blamed on Iran by the Navy. While Revolutionary Guard members were filmed taking an unexploded mine away from one tanker, Tehran denied being involved.
By comparison, there were no significant crises in the few months that Paparo was in power.
The US Navy regularly has tense experiences with the Revolutionary Guard, whose speed boats compete in the Persian Gulf alongside American warships and often hold live-fire exercises in their presence with machine guns and missile launches.
Usually, the Guard patrols the shallower waters of the Persian Gulf and the strait of Hormuz, its narrow mouth. The Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea are primarily controlled by Iran’s regular navy. Although previous commanders made a point of distinguishing between the professionalism of the two, Paparo opposed it as an old notion that involved a residual illusion that the service was still faithful to the former shah of Iran, who was overthrown in the 1979 revolution. The Vice Admiral said, “Forty-one years into the revolution, I think we can dispense with that notion.” I honestly deny that there is a distinction between them.’
Asked about Paparo’s remarks, Alireza Miryousefi, the spokesperson for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, said that all the Iranian naval forces had always treated themselves in the most competent manner when patrolling in the territorial waters and in the greater Persian Gulf.
Any alternate proposal is categorically incorrect, Miryousefi said.
The problem that needs to be raised is what is the U.S.? Seven thousand miles from the sovereign waters? Navy? ”
As part of a mission to ensure energy flows can flow through critical regional chokepoints, such as the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of all oil passes, the 5th Fleet has long patrolled the Mideast. Iranian authorities have been trying to block the strait in the past.