For the second time in four months, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel provoked the USS Mahan, a Navy destroyer assigned to the Persian Gulf.
The official said the Iranian vessel had its weapons manned and came within approximately 1,000 yards of the US destroyer.
The Mahan attempted bridge-to-bridge communication with the Iranians but got no response.
The US destroyer then fired a flare but despite the obvious signs from the Mahan, the Iranian ship continued on its course, forcing the US ship to alter direction, the official said.
But he said despite the provocations, the Mahan did not fire any warning shots.
Iran loves to test US responses in the Persian Gulf. They claim the waters of the Strait of Hormuz, a key passage for oil tankers outbound from the gulf. About 20 percent of the world’s petroleum passes through the narrow strait, which is 29 miles at its narrowest, separating Iran from Oman.
What Iran probably doesn’t realize is the significance of the USS Mahan’s name. The ship was named for Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, a 19th century thought leader in naval power. In fact, Mahan is the father of the doctrine of sea power–he wrote at least six volumes on the subject, exploring sea power in the history of naval engagements and war.
Every major navy in the world has used Mahan’s work as their textbook on naval sea power. His specific recommendations fueled support for the Panama Canal’s construction, and the United States’ presence on the Pacific islands including the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines.
Admiral Mahan’s lectures at the Naval War College tied national greatness to sea power, and defined a navy’s primary purpose as keeping commercial shipping open during peace and war. He emphasized control of strategic locations and choke points, of which the Strait of Hormuz is one of the major examples in the world.
The very fact that the U.S. maintains a relatively large navy with global reach, policing places like the Persian Gulf, owes to Mahan’s doctrine–which was developed before modern submarines, aircraft carriers, or Tomahawk missiles. The Iranians regularly play at challenging U.S. sea power, in a cat-and-mouse game which under Obama led to a humiliating morale buster for the U.S. Navy.
It’s fairly clear that under President Trump, the “weapons free” order will come much, much faster. If the USS Mahan does more than fire a warning shot next time, the irony of that engagement won’t be lost on our naval officers, who have all read Mahan’s work, even if it’s totally lost on the Iranians.