TEHRAN (Dispatches) — Iran said Monday it was glad the United States "got the message” and modified its behavior in the Persian Gulf, after the top U.S. Navy official in the region said his forces had reached a state of deterrence with Iran after months of regional attacks and seizures at sea.
"We are happy that the other party has got the message and made its behavior more respectful,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters. He said the U.S. military is the "main source of tension” in the region and that Iranian forces have always acted professionally.
"Unfortunately, the U.S. has often had an unprofessional approach toward Iran’s navy,” he said.
He was responding to Vice Adm. Sam Paparo’s remarks, delivered at a conference in Bahrain on Sunday. Paparo, who oversees the Navy’s 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, said the two sides had reached a state of "uneasy deterrence” and that he had a "healthy respect” for Iran’s regular navy and the naval forces of its Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
A former Navy fighter pilot who most recently served as director of operations at the U.S. military’s Central Command, he offered a different stance than his immediate predecessor, Vice Adm. James Malloy. In one of his last comments to journalists in August, Malloy referred to Iran as "reckless and provocative” and always trying in dramatic naval drills to "lower the denominator until they’re sure that they can look like they’ve won something.”
Malloy’s tenure saw a series of suspicious explosions targeting tankers that the U.S. used as a pretext for more military buildup in the Persian Gulf, with many observers believing the blasts were false flag operations to blame Iran.
By contrast, the several months that Paparo has been in charge have not seen any major crises.
The U.S. Navy routinely has tense encounters with the IRGC, whose speed boats accost intruding American warships in the Persian Gulf and sometimes conduct live-fire drills with machine guns and missile launches to promote their combat readiness.
The IRGC typically patrols the shallower
waters of the Persian Gulf and its narrow mouth, the Strait of Hormuz. Iran’s regular navy largely operates in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. While previous commanders have made a point to differentiate between the two, Paparo dismissed it as an "old idea” that included a lingering delusional belief that the service might still be loyal to Iran’s former shah, who was toppled in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"Forty-one years into the revolution, I think we can dispense with that notion,” the vice admiral said. "I sincerely doubt there’s a difference among them.”
After Iran launched a rare direct military attack against United States forces in Iraq in January, an uneasy quiet has settled across the Mideast. Iran’s pounding of two U.S. military bases in Iraq with precision-guided missiles rattled the country’s adversaries.
In the aftermath of the attack in response to U.S. assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and other U.S. warships have been reported to sail about 150 miles (240 kilometers) from Iran.
Top generals, including commander of the Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie have flown aboard for overnight stay in the warships, underscoring the United States’ alarm about the lethal capability and precision of Iranian missiles.
Iranian military commanders have said American aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf have made them easy targets for Iran. Should a war between the two countries ever break out, Iran will target American aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, they have said.