Iranian naval forces have stopped with their regular provocations of U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf in recent months, a U.S. military official said Thursday.
The spokesman of the Navy, Commander William Urban, said that there have been no “unsafe and unprofessional” actions by Iranian naval forces in the Gulf since August 2017. Previously, Iranian vessels had regularly made high-speed approaches to U.S. ships that were considered dangerous provocations.
When asked, Urban declined to speculate on the reason for the change.
“It seems like they’ve absolutely made a conscious decision to give us more space,” he said. “That is definitely a change in their behavior.”
Urban spoke to reporters while traveling with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who stopped in Bahrain to meet with senior government officials and U.S. military leaders on his way back from Afghanistan.
The Associated Press reported that the last provocation from the Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf was recorded on August 14, 2017, when an unarmed Iranian drone shadowed the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier at night and came close enough to F-18 fighter jets to put the lives of American pilots at risk, the Navy said at the time.
The Navy reported that the drone wasn’t responding to repeated radio calls and was flying within 1,000 feet (300 meters) of U.S. fighters. Also on August 8, the Navy stated that an Iranian drone came within 100 feet (30 meters) of an F-18 preparing to land on the Nimitz.
Military reports show that for the first eight months of 2017, the Navy recorded 14 instances of what is called “unsafe and/or unprofessional” interaction with Iranians forces. 35 were recorded in 2016 and 23 in 2015.
According to AP, the incidents at sea almost always involved the Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force that reports only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Some analysts believe the incidents are meant in part to squeeze moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s administration after the 2015 nuclear deal.
The worst incident last year was when Iranian forces captured and detained overnight 10 U.S. sailors who strayed into the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters.