US Navy commanders are claiming Iranian forces “harassed" American warships as they passed through the Strait of Hormuz. The claims come as tensions are on the rise between the two countries.
The incident occurred on Tuesday as a US-led, five-vessel flotilla, which included the aircraft carrier ‘USS George H.W. Bush’, passed through the waters on its way to the Arabian Gulf.
According to the commanders, the flotilla was approached by two sets of Iranian Navy fast-attack boats, some of which came as close as 870 meters (950 yards) from the aircraft carrier.
"What I don't like about that is they (Iranian boats) were in the middle of international transit waters (while) we had a right to be there as we were exercising freedom of navigation on our way into the Arabian Gulf," Rear Admiral Kenneth Whitesell, commander of the Carrier Strike Group 2, told journalists aboard the aircraft carrier, as quoted by Reuters.
"They also had weapons uncovered as some of the cameras were able to tell. They had some of the weapons manned. We also have aerial data that they were arming all of these weapons."
Whitehall said Iran claimed the US-led flotilla – which also included a Danish frigate and a French destroyer – had breached its international territorial waters. The commander denied that assertion.
Responding to the Iranian Navy, US forces deployed helicopter gunships from the ‘USS George H.W. Bush’ to hover over the speedboats. One of the helicopters was threatened by Iran, according to Captain Will Pennington, the commanding officer of the ‘George H.W. Bush’, adding that it was “certainly unprofessional behavior.”
It comes less than three weeks after Iran's Revolutionary Guards said a US Navy ship changed course toward Iranian vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, accusing Washington of “unprofessional actions...(that) can have irreversible consequences.”
In January, a US destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels near the Strait of Hormuz after they approached at high speed and apparently disregarded numerous requests to slow down.
Turkey has been a NATO ally since 1952, and US aircraft have used Incirlik Air Base in the south during the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The base is home to a stockpile of US tactical nuclear weapons. A perusal of media reports leads to the conclusion that Turkey and NATO are heading for a major rift or even a breakup – a problem the North Atlantic alliance hasn’t experienced in its nearly seven decades of existence.
Germany and the Netherlands have blocked Turkish ministers from staging rallies to court the vote of expatriate Turks in the April 16 referendum on giving President Erdogan greater powers. Denmark is siding with its north European neighbors. Turkey faces deep differences with the USA, accusing it of being behind the failed plot in 2016. Both countries have opposing views on the role of Kurds in Syria. Former State Secretary John Kerry came close to threatening Turkey with the loss of its NATO membership.
Add to this the perennial tension between Turkey and Greece and the problem of Cyprus to get the whole picture. According to Bloomberg, «All in all, Turkey appears to have more disputes than friendships with its NATO allies. And its engagement with the alliance itself, which it joined in 1952, isn't particularly strong».
The NATO annual report for 2016 says Turkey only took part in four of the 18 key NATO exercises held last year. Despite having the fourth-strongest military in the bloc (after the US, France and the UK but ahead of Germany) and the second-highest number of military personnel (after the US), its involvement in NATO's deployments is small, amounting to just 4 percent of the personnel in the mission to train the Afghan security forces, and 7 percent of the Kosovo force.
Last November, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could become part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The idea had been discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Established in 1996, the SCO is a political, military and economic organization comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Iran, Mongolia, Belarus and Afghanistan are granted observer status. India and Pakistan are set to join this year to make the SCO a powerful group with global influence. Turkey’s accession would be a milestone bringing together the Shanghai Pact and the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTS) - an international organization of Turkic countries, comprising Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. The General Secretariat is in İstanbul, Turkey. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are possible future members of the council.
Turkey is developing military cooperation with Russia. This January, Russian and Turkish air forces launched a joint operation against Islamic State (IS) militants holding the town of al-Bab northeast of Aleppo. The parties have agreed to form a joint military and intelligence mechanism to coordinate their activities in the Middle East. If peace efforts to stop hostilities in Syria succeed, Russia and Turley lead the crisis management process. It could be a start on the way to forming a broader alliance against global terrorism.
Russia and Turkey have been getting increasingly close recently, especially after the two countries brokered a Syria truce in late December to join together in the Astana process. Turkey is in talks with Russia on purchasing the advanced long-range S-400 air defense systems to protect its skies. This issue was on the agenda during the President Erdogan’s visit to Moscow on March 9-10, 2017. Ankara also seeks procurement deals in electronic systems, ammunitions and missile technology.
There was a time when Russophobia served as an effective form of population control – used by the American ruling class in particular to command the general US population into patriotic loyalty. Not any longer. Now, Russophobia is a sign of weakness, of desperate implosion among the US ruling class from their own rotten, internal decay.
This propaganda technique worked adequately well during the Cold War decades when the former Soviet Union could be easily demonized as «godless communism» and an «evil empire». Such stereotypes, no matter how false, could be sustained largely because of the monopoly control of Western media by governments and official regulators.
The Soviet Union passed away more than a quarter of a century ago, but Russophobia among the US political class is more virulent than ever.
This week it was evident from Congressional hearings in Washington into alleged Russian interference in US politics that large sections of American government and establishment media are fixated by Russophobia and a belief that Russia is a malign foreign adversary.
What is increasingly apparent here is a gaping chasm between the political class and the wider public on the matter of Russophobia. This is true for Western countries generally, but especially in the US. The political class – the lawmakers in Washington and the mainstream news media – are frenzied by claims that Russia interfered in the US presidential elections and that Russia has some kind of sinister leverage on the presidency of Donald Trump.
But this frenzy of Russophobia is not reflected among the wider public of ordinary American citizens. Rabid accusations that Russia hacked the computers of Trump’s Democrat rival Hillary Clinton to spread damaging information about her; that this alleged sabotage of American democracy was an «act of war»; that President Trump is guilty of «treason» by «colluding» with a «Russian influence campaign» – all of these sensational claims seem to be only a preoccupation of the privileged political class. Most ordinary Americans, concerned about making a living in a crumbling society, either don’t buy the claims or view them as idle chatter.
Let’s just assume for a moment that the whole Trump-Russia collusion story is indeed fake. That it is groundless, a figment of imagination. There are solid reasons to believe that is the case. But let’s just assume here that it is fake for the sake of argument.
That then means that the Washington seat of government and the US presidency are tearing themselves apart in a futile civil war.
The real war here is a power struggle within the US in the context of ruling parties no longer having legitimacy to govern.
This is an American implosion. An historic Made-in-America meltdown. And Russophobia is but a symptom of the internal decay at the heart of US politics.
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