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Mullen: US-Iranian navy clash reflects shift in Tehran military strategy

    WASHINGTON — The recent confrontation between Iranian and U.S. navy forces in the Persian Gulf reflects a shift in military strategy by Tehran to use its Revolutionary Guard’s fast boats in a more aggressive manner in the region, the top U.S. military officer said Friday.
    And while Adm. Mike Mullen said he could not himself tell if verbal threats heard in a U.S.-aired tape of the incident actually came from the Iranian boats, he said the clash was the most ‘‘provocative and dramatic’’ he’s seen to date.
    ‘‘The incident ought to remind us all just how real is the threat posed by Iran and just how ready we are to meet that threat if it comes to it,’’ said Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
    Mullen told Pentagon reporters that the U.S. has been focused ‘‘for several years’’ on this shift to greater use of small, fast boats by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has taken over patrols in the Gulf from Tehran’s regular navy.
    ‘‘It’s clearly strategically where the Iranian military has gone,’’ said Mullen. ‘‘There’s a projection they were going to do that over a number of years ... That was a big concern to me because of the history and the background with the IRGC (Revolutionary Guard.) This fit that mold, as far as I was concerned.’’
    He said he would ‘‘prefer Iran to take a more productive, positive role in the region.’’
    After reviewing the reports about last Sunday’s incident, Mullen said, he believes that the sailors and the commanders acted ‘‘exactly right’’ given the behavior of the Iranian boats.
    Iran and the U.S. have both released video of the encounter between Iranian fast boats and U.S. naval ships in the Persian Gulf early Sunday.
    The U.S. has condemned the incident, calling the Iranians’ actions provocative and dangerous. Tehran has denied its boats threatened the U.S. vessels, and accused Washington of fabricating its video.
    The Pentagon’s four-minute, 20-second video of the incident, showing small Iranian boats swarming around U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz. In the recording, a man threatens in English, ‘‘I am coming to you. ... You will explode after ... minutes.’’
    Navy officials have said they cannot be sure the threats came from the boats or from somewhere else on shore.
    In response, the Iranians put out their own five-minute clip, showing a man speaking into a handheld radio, with three U.S. ships floating in the distance. The footage did not show any Iranian boats approaching the U.S. vessels or any provocation.
    Neither video showed Sunday’s entire encounter, which U.S. Navy officials described as threatening, and said lasted about 20 minutes.

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