US general warns Iran the US Navy will protect itself in the Arabian Gulf

US general warns Iran the US Navy will protect itself in the Arabian Gulf
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The top U.S. commander in the Middle East warned Iran that the U.S. will protect itself following a string of recent incidents in which the Iranian navy harassed U.S. ships in the Arabian Gulf. 

"I think the big concern here is miscalculation, that I'm very confident in the measures that our maritime forces are taking. They are measured. They are deliberate in the things that they are doing, but ultimately we are going to protect ourselves if that comes to a situation," said Army Gen. Joseph Votel at a press briefing on Tuesday. 

"Because ultimately we will prevail here and I'm very, very confident of that and we certainly don't want that to come to pass," he added. 

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Votel said he's seen an "uptick" in confrontations by Iranian ships in the region in recent months. 

The behavior has come despite an international accord with Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. 

Last week, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy vessels harassed U.S. ships in the Gulf on several occasions, including approaching U.S. Navy ships at high speeds, within close proximity, and encircling them. 

The U.S. Navy ships have responded by firing warning shots and flares. 

Votel called their responses so far professional and measured in what could have quickly become larger incidents. 

"They helped to keep a tense situation from escalating into an international incident," he said. 

"These all are close calls. ... We're talking seconds here," he said about trying to avoid a confrontation between the two militaries. 

Votel said he was concerned about "rogue commanders" with the Iranian Quds Force, which is part of the IRGC, trying to "test" the U.S. 

However, he also pointed to Iran's regime as behind the encounters.

The IRGC is the regime's elite military corps and is closely tied to top leadership in Iran.  

"What I see in this is principally the regime leadership trying to exert their influence and authority in the region. And they are trying to do it in provocative ways that are unsafe, unprofessional and, really, I think, work against their — their objectives in the long term here," he said. 

"It's about the Iranian regime and their desire to continue to do these types of things that stoke instability or attempt to stoke instability in the region," he said.