The Islamic Republic of Iran has announced the release of the 10 U.S. Navy sailors captured Tuesday in the Persian Gulf.
On Wednesday morning, Iran state news declared that the sailors had been taken to international waters and freed there, though the U.S. military did not immediately confirm the release.
On Tuesday, two U.S. Navy vessels en route from Kuwait to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, were seized by Iranian forces, who detained the ships and ten American sailors—nine men and one woman—near Iran’s Farsi Island.
The sailors were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), whose leaders are aligned with the regime’s hardliners who oppose the now-historic Iran nuclear deal.
Iran’s official state news agency, IRNA, reported that the boats were “rescued” by Iranian navy sailors.
Iranian officials interrogated the sailors for hours about their motives, trying to ascertain whether they “entered Iranian waters intentionally on an intelligence mission,” according to the IRGC.
At the end, the Iranians seemed satisfied that the sailors had drifted into the area without malice. “The evidence suggests that they unintentionally entered the Iranian waters because of the failure of their navigational system,” IRGC spokesman Ramazan Sharif concluded.
Nonetheless, Iran’s foreign minister insisted that the United States apologize for the “encroachment” of American vessels into Iranian territorial waters, and IRGC Navy Commander Admiral Ali Fadavi said the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf waters “disturbed the security of the area.”
On Wednesday morning, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards naval forces declared that Iran had indeed received an apology from the United States.
Fadavi also accused the U.S. military of acting in an “unprofessional” manner and claimed that the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier had made provocative “maritime and aerial” maneuvers after the U.S. sailors were captured Tuesday.
The U.S. military, however, released a video Saturday showing what is purportedly an Iranian military vessel firing several unguided rockets near, but not at, the USS Harry S. Truman, as well as near other warships and commercial craft.
U.S. officials have not publically confirmed what caused two American naval ships to enter Iranian waters near Farsi Island on Tuesday, though privately two officials said that the boats had drifted into Iranian coastal waters in the vicinity of Farsi Island, apparently after one experienced mechanical problems and the other attempted to offer assistance.
This naval incident comes at a delicate moment for both the U.S. and Iran, with the lifting of sanctions due to begin at the end of this week.
The Revolutionary Guard Corps, though opposed to the nuclear deal for ideological reasons, stands to gain economically, since the IRGC is largely responsible for Iran’s nuclear research.
In his final State of the Union address Tuesday evening, president Obama bragged about his nuclear deal with Iran, but somehow never mentioned the fact that at that very moment ten American sailors and two U.S. Navy vessels had been captured by the Iranians.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome