Iran has long harassed US military ships, particularly in the Persian Gulf, but reported incidents have notably declined in recent years. Since tensions first rose between the United States and Iran in May 2019, however, various forms of Iranian provocations have increased across the region, including in the Gulf of Oman. This included the IRGC’s downing of a Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone over the Gulf of Oman last June, which was followed by US Marines aboard the Wasp USS class amphibious assault ship Boxingr shoot down an Iranian drone in the highly strategic Strait of Hormuz the following month.
That’s not to say a slew of incidents on land across the Middle East over the past 18 months that the United States blames on Iran or its regional proxies. This includes unprecedented drone and cruise missile strikes on Saudi oil infrastructure in September 2019 and the equally unprecedented Iranian ballistic missile strikes targeting US forces in Iraq in January 2020. The latter were in retaliation for the government’s decision. US government to kill Iranian General Qasem. Soleimani in Baghdad the same month. Iranian proxies in Iraq continue to launch their own rocket attacks, which have been occurring regularly in Iraq for months, prompting US counterattacks.
It is not clear what necessarily sparked this latest incident between US and Iranian forces, but it comes as the US continues its campaign of maximum pressure against the regime in Tehran. This includes crippling sanctions, the impacts of which have been even more pronounced in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This virus has hit Iran particularly hard, and the country has struggled to get medical and other help due to US and international sanctions. The pandemic has also reportedly increased criticism of the regime in Iran, and experts have warned that this could prompt authorities in Tehran to seek drastic ways to distract from a domestic situation.
Either way, the incident makes it clear that tensions, as well as the risk of conflict, between the United States and Iran remain high, even amid the pandemic.
We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
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