After a series of recent provocations by Iranian patrol boats in the Persian Gulf, the head of the U.S. Central Command says he fears "rogue commanders" could provoke a miscalculation with U.S. ships that could end badly for the Iranians.
Gen. Joseph Votel said Tuesday that up to now, the U.S. Navy has responded to the provocations in a highly professional manner and in ways that have de-escalated the confrontations.
"In every case that I've seen they have made very, very good decisions," Votel said in describing the actions of U.S. Navy crews. "But ultimately if they continue to test us, we're going to respond and we're going to protect ourselves and our partners."
Votel said while he can't get into the mind of the Iranians, he noted that recent incidents, in which Iran patrol boats approached U.S. Navy vessels at high speed, were overwhelmingly conducted by Quds Force navy vessels, the most radical element of the Iranian military,
"It's about the Iranian regime and their desire to continue to do these types of things that stoke instability or attempt to stoke instability in the region."
Several incidents have occurred this month alone, including one in which the coastal patrol boat USS Squall had to fire warning shots into the water.
And Votel witnessed an incident firsthand last month when the ship he was traveling on, the amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans, was transiting the Strait of Hormuz.
"I think these are all close calls. For those of you that were with us when we saw this, I mean it's — we're talking seconds here." Votel said.
"What we see with the Iranians is not particularly responsible. It is provocative, in some cases; it's unsafe. And it can lead to situations where we may not be able to deescalate in time before something happens."
Votel urged what he called "rogue Iranian Quds force naval commanders" to act in a professional manner, particularly in international waters.
"Because ultimately we will prevail here and I'm very, very confident of that and we certainly don't want that to come to pass," he said.