Iran attacks US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam—Iran has staged a failed hit-and-run attack on U.S. warships, the Navy has reported.

According to Pentagon officials, vessels secretly controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) fired several missiles at the U.S. destroyers USS Maddox (DD-731) and USS Turner Joy (DD-951) yesterday while they cruised in the Gulf of Tonkin, just off the coast of Vietnam. The missiles failed to strike either warship.

The move came as a shock to Seventh Fleet, which expected Iran to attack U.S. forces on the other side of the world in the Persian Gulf.

“This shows just how devious the Ayatollahs are,” said a senior U.S. official who spoke anonymously so he would not be tweet-fired, referring to Iran's religious leaders, who control the country. “Clearly, the Persians realize that we have achieved local superiority in the Middle East and are pursuing asymmetric responses.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf to deter what U.S. officials claimed was an impending Iranian attack. More recently, officials claimed the Iranian threat had faded.

The vessels that staged the attack are traditional Iranian sailing vessels, called dhows, and did not have military markings. The dhows departed immediately after the incident and have not been located since, according to several Pentagon officials.

“This is some real gray zone stuff,” an admiral said. “We were expecting renewed great-power competition, or at least a near-peer fight."

A sailor familiar with the matter said that it was not unusual for sailing vessels to be hard to track on the high seas. Conditions in the Gulf of Tonkin, where a squall shortly after the attacks reduced visibility to brought six-foot waves, also likely contributed to the Iranian escape. Beyond difficult detection conditions, the sailor said the Maddox's long-range air-search radar and the Turner Joy's radar were inoperative.

"We're just happy we didn't hit a freighter,” the sailor said.