Nasser Karimi – Associated Press December 29, 2011
An Iranian surveillance plane has shot video and photographed a U.S. aircraft carrier during Iran’s ongoing navy drill near a strategic waterway in the Persian Gulf, the official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday.
The report did not provide details and it was unclear what information the Iranian military could gleam from such footage. But the announcement is an indication Iran is seeking to cast its navy as having a powerful role in the region’s waters.
IRNA quoted Iran’s navy chief, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, as saying the action shows that Iran has “control over the moves by foreign forces” in the area where Tehran is holding a 10-day military exercise.
“An Iranian vessel and surveillance plane have tracked, filmed and photographed a U.S. aircraft carrier as it was entering the Gulf of Oman from the Persian Gulf,” Sayyari said.
He added that the “foreign fleet will be warned by Iranian forces if it enters the area of the drill.”
State TV showed what appeared to be the reported video, but it was not possible to make out the details of the carrier because the footage was filmed from far away.
The Iranian exercise is taking place in international waters near the Strait of Hormuz — the passageway for one-sixth of the world’s oil supply.
Beyond it lie vast bodies of water, including the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet is also active in the area, as are warships of several other countries that patrol for pirates there.
Lt. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay headed out from the Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, after a visit to Dubai’s Jebel Ali port.
She described the passage through the strait as “a pre-planned, routine transit” for the carrier, which is providing air support from the north Arabian Sea to troops in Afghanistan.
Rebarich did not directly address Iranian claims of possessing the reported footage but said the 5th Fleet’s “interaction with the regular Iranian Navy continues to be within the standards of maritime practice, well known, routine and professional.”
Thursday’s report follows U.S. warnings over Iranian threats to choke off traffic through the Strait of Hormuz if Washington imposes sanctions targeting Iran’s crude exports. On Wednesday, Rebarich said the Navy was “always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation.”
Gen. Hossein Salami, the acting commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard rejected the warning.
“The U.S. is not in a position” to affect Iran’s decisions, Salami told the semi-official Fars news agency Thursday. “Iran does not ask permission to implement its own defensive strategies.”
Associated Press Writer Adam Schreck contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.