By David Daoud
Iran’s semi-official state news agencies claimed on Tuesday that an Iranian destroyer chased off a U.S. warship and two reconnaissance aircraft that approached Islamic Republic flagged vessels in the strategic Gulf of Aden.
According to the reports, two US P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes and a USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81) destroyer were forced to turn around after the Iranian destroyer, Alborz 72, issued warnings for them to change course and keep at least five miles from the Iranian Navy’s 34th fleet, which was stationed in the area.
Colonel Mostafa Tajeddini, the commander of the 34th fleet, commented that his ships are “duty-bound to monitor any foreign warships in international waters as well as anything that would threaten Iran’s national interests.”
Iranian news website Mehr claimed that the Iranian destroyer initiated the hostile move against the U.S. warship after it “approached several Iranian warships in a provocative move, ignoring the internationally set 5-mile standard distance from Iran’s 34th fleet of warships deployed in the Gulf of Aden.”
Tajeddini also dismissed reports in international media and by the Pentagon late last month that U.S. naval warships had forced Iranian navy vessels headed to Yemen to change their course in the Gulf of Aden. “The news reports by foreign media that we have changed our route after the US fleet’s arrival is only a media ballyhoo,” he said, adding that, “We have had communications with many naval units since we entered the Gulf of Aden, but no country has ever dared to warn the Iranian Navy.”
The 34th naval fleet is currently sailing through Yemen’s strategic Bab Al-Mandeb Straits, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and is a major shipping way for Saudi and Gulf oil, and claims to be providing “security for Iranian and international merchant vessels,” according to Iran’s Press TV.
Mehr said that the 34th Fleet, comprised of the Alborz destroyer and the Bushehr helicopter-carrier warship, is “conducting anti-piracy patrols in the high seas and Gulf of Aden,” and its mission in the area will last about three months.
Despite these Iranian claims, Western media sources have noted that the Iranian ships are in the area to deliver weapons and other aid to Tehran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen.