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Iran keeps issuing threats, US keeps saving Iranian sailors

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US Navy/AP

(Read caption) In this photo released by the US Navy, a US sailor assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd greets a crew member of the Iranian-flagged fishing dhow Al Molai last week. US military officials say the Navy has rescued an Iranian fishing boat that had been commandeered by suspected Somali pirates.

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The information warriors at the Pentagon probably can't believe their luck.

Iran has spent much of the past month crowing about how it could shut down the Strait of Hormuz -- a choke-point for vast quantities of seaborne oil for nearly 40 percent of the world -- and said it was "warning" the US to keep its ships out of the Persian Gulf. The US, as a far greater naval power, with a naval base in Bahrain, and an interest in keeping sea lanes open, brushed off the Iranian threat. 

Though tensions have continued to rise, with Iran sentencing Iranian-American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati to death yesterday for allegedly spying (his family says he returned to Iran to visit his grandmother) and new US sanctions on Iran's central bank, two peaceful opportunities to underscore the US naval reach in the region literally fell into America's lap.

Last week, the Navy destroyer USS Kidd swept in and rescued 13 Iranian fishermen who'd been held hostage on their small boat by Somali pirates for over a month. The fishermen, who'd been through a "horrific" ordeal according to one of their American rescuers, were given food, medical treatment, and enough fuel to steam home.

Today, the US Coast Guard got into the act. The Coast Guard provides security for the US 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain and patrols the Persian Gulf. Patrol boat Monomoy responded to a distress call from the Iranian cargo dhow, Ya-Hussayn, at about 3 am this morning. The boat was taking on water and had a fire in the engine room and the Monomoy took its six person crew aboard.

The US sailors gave the Iranians a halal meal ("Halal meals are in accordance with Islamic law and are stored aboard U.S. Coast Guard ships to provide to Muslim mariners in distress," the US 5th Fleet helpfully explains), blankets, and minor medical assistance before transferring them to the Iranian Coast Guard's Naji 7 an hour and a half later.

Small cargo boats routinely ply the waters of the Gulf from Iran to Dubai, Manama, and other entrepôts on the Arab western coast. Though the word "dhow" was traditionally used to describe single-masted vessels, rigged with triangular sails, it's sometimes used generically for "cargo boat" in the region. 

In the past, Iranian forces haven't been as friendly to civilian mariners in the Gulf. In 2009, Iran's navy seized a British yacht in the Strait of Hormuz, which is just 30 miles wide at its narrowest point and the gateway to the Gulf. The Kingdom of Bahrain's five crew members were held for a few days in Iran and at one point threatened with prosecution before their release. In 2007, Iran seized and held 15 British sailors and marines who allegedly entered Iranian waters while they were patrolling the Iraqi coast. It released them after two weeks.

Follow Dan Murphy on Twitter.

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Q&A: What's with the war talk surrounding Iran?


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