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Do US and Iranian navies need a hotline in the Gulf?

In the absence of direct US-Iran diplomacy, a navy-to-navy communication channel might prevent an unwanted confrontation.
An Iranian warship and speed boats take part in a naval war game in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, southern Iran April 22, 2010. Iran's Revolutionary Guards successfully deployed a new speed boat capable of destroying enemy ships as war games began on Thursday in a waterway crucial for global oil supplies, Iranian media reported.  REUTERS/Fars News    (IRAN - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS) QUALITY FROM SOURCE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - GM1E64M1H8101

The US-Iran conflict reached another escalation point April 15 when 11 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) navy speedboats harassed US warships in the Gulf, coming as close as 10 yards, despite multiple warnings. In response, President Donald Trump, in an oddly phrased tweet April 22, said he had directed the US Navy to "shoot down and destroy" any Iranian boats that again harassed US ships. The escalation this time was almost entirely on Iran’s shoulders. Trump’s threat has an ominous side, yet it could help contain the situation if it acts as a deterrent.

The harassing behavior by IRGC boats, crossing the bows and sterns of the US ships, is nothing new. In 2015, the US Navy reported 25 such incidents, which it politely terms "unsafe and unprofessional conduct." In 2016, there were three dozen more. These provocative actions took place while the United States and Iran were negotiating, and then implementing, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. While Iran denies any malfeasance, US Navy officers are trained to capture all such incidents on video. In the latest case, the camera clearly shows which side was at fault. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif retorted that US forces have no business in the Gulf to begin with, over 7,000 miles away from the US homeland.

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