The Bush administration’s assertion that 5 small Iranian boats confronted big, well-armed US ships in the Straits of Hormuz and threatened to blow up the American vessels is looking more and more like a serious error if not a Republican Party fabrication.
The episode featured prominently in the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, according to McClatchy:
“One of the most animated exchanges came when the candidates were asked whether they backed the Navy’s cautious response recently when Iranian boats reportedly harassed U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf.
Huckabee said anyone who challenges the Navy again should be prepared to go to the “gates of hell.” Thompson said anyone testing the Navy might soon meet the “virgins” that Islamic terrorists expect to meet in heaven.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul called the bellicose language frightening and reminiscent of the reaction to an alleged naval exchange that led to the Vietnam War. “I would certainly urge a lot more caution than I’m hearing here tonight,” Paul said.
Romney cracked that Paul should stop reading Iranian propaganda, drawing what sounded like boos from the audience and a glare from Paul.”
So the Republicans are embarrassing themselves again, because there was not any reason to send anyone through the gates of hell. Moreover, Huckabee and Romney are not the ones who would suffer if Bush and Cheney managed to get up a skirmish with Iran. Our troops, kidnapped and held in the midst of a hostile Shiite population in Iraq, would be on the line. Getting them blown up for nothing is the opposite of patriotism.
The video released by the Pentagon (at whose orders?) showed these little tiny vessels only a little bigger than what children play with in bathtubs, with no visible armaments. The video does not show anyone dumping white cartons into the water, as was initially alleged (an action which would probably have drawn fire from the US ships if it had happened, lest they be mines). While even a small vessel could be dangerous if it carried high explosives, there is no evidence that they got close enough to the US vessels to form any sort of threat nor that the Iranian government is so foolish as to openly attack the US Navy.
The Iranians analyzed the Pentagon video released to the US media and found that the audio track was not synchronized properly with the video, pointing to serious tinkering.
And sure enough, we now know that the tape is a fabrication in the sense that the Pentagon says the video and the audio were recorded separately and then combined. And they can’t even be sure where the audio came from! The NYT reports,
‘ The audio includes a statement that says, “I am coming to you,” and adds, “You will explode after a few minutes.” The voice was recorded from the internationally recognized channel for ship-to-ship communications, Navy officials have said. Naval and Pentagon officials have said that the video and audio were recorded separately, then combined. On Wednesday, Pentagon officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak officially, said they were still trying to determine if the transmission came from the speedboats or elsewhere.”
Wouldn’t it have been better to determine if the transmission came from the Iranian speedboats before super-imposing it on the videotape of the Iranian boats and then issuing it in such a way as to possibly foment a war?
A posting to the NYT “the Lede” blog page observed that the frequency used for ship communications in the Gulf is very busy and has lots of extraneous traffic, including the hurling of racial epithets against Filipinos & etc. The experienced former naval officer said, “My first thought was that the ‘explode’ comment might not have come from one of the Iranian craft, but some loser monitoring the events at a shore facility.”
This episode is just about the most pitiful thing I have seen since Bush came to power, and believe me I’ve seen plenty.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards issued their own video and audio of the encounter, which shows a routine identity check (see below).
Hamshahri reports in Persian that Sayyid Mahmoud Jazayeri said that questioning passing ships is a completely routine activity for the Iranian speedboats. Jazayeri accused Washington of attempting to paper over its serious defeats in the Middle East with this gimmick.
The USG Open Source Center translates some of the transcript below.
“Iran TV Says BBC, CNN Complicit in ‘Falsity’ of US Footage
Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 1
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Document Type: OSC Translated Text
The navy of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps aired a clip of the Hormuz Strait incident, which proves the falsity of the claims by American officials. In pictures aired today, the Iranian vessel only asks a few questions from the American one. The American vessel responds to the questions by Iran and this is a routine matter in the activities of the patrol units in maritime territory.
(Iranian patrol in English) Coalition warship seven, three. This is Iranian navy patrol boat Tatone – 16. Navy warship, navy warship seven, three. This is Iranian navy patrol boat Tatone – 16. Come in, over.
(US navy officer over radio, in English) This is Coalition Warship seven three. Roger, over.
(IRGC officer, English) Coalition warship seven three. This is Iranian navy patrol boat Tantoma – 16. Over.
(Presenter) CNN had aired a clip in which the Iranians had surrounded the American vessel threatening that in a few minutes time you will explode. The CNN and BBC networks aired Iranian footage today but without the sound.
The Iranian deputy admiral of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps said that the claims of the American officials on threats against the American warships are totally false, because in the main reel the military number of the Iranian person (on his uniform) speaking is shown quite clearly.
Admiral Fadavi added that the conversation between Iranian vessels and other passing vessels is perfectly normal, which happens over and over again.
(Iranian TV aired parts of the video with Farsi caption on English conversations)
(Description of Source: Tehran Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 1 in Persian — state-run television). “
The Iranian press is suspicious about the timing of the Pentagon videotape, noting that it was released just as Bush was heading to the Middle East to try to convince the Arab allies of the US to make common cause with Israel against Iran. The Gulf monarchies in particular are very afraid of the Iranian navy, and the Bush administration video would have been useful for pushing the Kuwaitis, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia into agreeing with the Bush grand strategy of surrounding Iran and then cutting it off.
(See also today’s posting at the Global Affairs blog by Farideh Farhi on Iranian concerns about US intervention in Iranian domestic politics.)