The Middle East Newsline confirms that, for the first time, a U.S. Navy ship has fired toward Iranian fast attack craft in the Gulf. The U.S. Navy said two Islamic Republic Guard Corps (IRGC) vessels confronted a cargo ship contracted by the U.S. Military Sealift Command.

On Thursday, the U.S. vessel, identified as Westward Venture, fired several bursts from a machine gun toward the two IRGC speedboats, officials said. The U.S. reported the confrontation in the central Gulf during the next day. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

“While transiting north in international waters in the Central Arabian Gulf April 24 at approximately 8 a.m. local time, Motor Vessel Westward Venture was approached by two unidentified small boats,” the U.S. Fifth Fleet said Friday. “Following proper procedure, Westward Venture issued standard queries to the small boats via bridge-to-bridge radio, but received no response. Westward Venture then activated a flare, which also did not receive a response.

“The small boats continued toward Westward Venture and the ship’s embarked security team fired warning shots,” the navy said. “The small boats left the area.”

This marked at least the fifth encounter between U.S. Navy and IRGC assault vessels in the Gulf since December. But this was the first time the U.S. reported opening fire toward Iran’s navy. Iran has denied the latest incident.

Later, Westward Venture received a radio query from a ship that identified itself as an Iranian Coast Guard vessel. Westward Venture, which measures some 320 meters, is a U.S.-flagged and chartered roll-on/roll-off ship owned by Totem Ocean Trailer Express.

“A short time later, Westward Venture received a query from a unit identifying itself as Iranian Coast Guard,” the Fifth Fleet said. “It is not clear if this was one of the small boats or a separate boat. The query was routine and correct.”

The confrontation came amid increasing Iranian help to Shiite militias in Iraq. On April 25, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran was intensifying weapons and training support to anti-U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“It’s not just weapons,” Adm. Mullen said. “They [Iran] continue to train Iraqis in Iran to come back and fight Americans in the coalition. I just don’t see any evidence of them backing off. And [the fighting in March in] Basra highlighted a lot of that.”

At the same time, Adm. Mullen said the United States does not seek war with Iran, although he could not rule this out. Referring to the U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, the admiral said that “a third conflict in this part of the world would be extremely stressing for us.

“But in terms of having another conflict in that region, I certainly don’t think that would be where we’d want to go right now,” Mullen said.

©The Bulletin 2008

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David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com and www.cfnepr.com. A new site,unrwa-monitor.com, will be launched very soon.