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Pentagon: Iran Navy Flew Helicopter in 'Unsafe' Proximity to USS Essex

This image made from a video released on Jan. 13, 2021, by the Iranian Army shows a helicopter landing on Makran logistics vessel during a navy drill.

An Iranian Navy helicopter flew within 23 meters of U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship while it was traveling in the Gulf of Oman last week, according to the Pentagon.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday the helicopter “operated in an unsafe and unprofessional manner,” flying as low as 3 meters from the water’s surface and circling the USS Essex three times.

“When you have another armed force, in this case the Iranian Navy, that flies like this, you definitely run the risk of some sort of escalation and a miscalculation,” Kirby said.

Responding to Kirby’s comments, IRNA, Iran's official news agency, accused the Pentagon spokesman of trying to "justify the illegal U.S. military presence in the region."

A U.S. defense official told VOA the incident happened on November 11. A video circulating on Iranian Telegram channels appears to show about 45 seconds of the encounter from the perspective of the Iranian helicopter cockpit.

The incident comes just a week after several drones, reported to be Iranian, flew in an "unsafe interaction" with the USS Essex in the Strait of Hormuz.

A U.S. official, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the situation, said the drones flew within about 1,500 meters of the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship on November 2.

It also comes after Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed it had thwarted an attempt by the United States to detain a tanker carrying the Islamic Republic's oil in the Sea of Oman, a claim the Pentagon called “absolutely, totally false and untrue.”

Earlier this month, Kirby said it was actually Iran's forces that illegally seized and boarded a merchant vessel in late October in the Sea of Oman.

Tensions have been high between Tehran and Washington amid stalled talks on reviving Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The deal lifted global sanctions in exchange for Tehran curtailing its uranium enrichment program.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran. Tehran then violated limits on uranium enrichment that had been established by the deal.