Thursday, January 10, 2008

Iran fastboat on warship encounter.

This little episode has taken on a life of its own, thanks in no small part to the Bush administration's willingness to find any reason at all to launch an attack on Iran.

Cernig has one of the most complete running versions of events including the Iranian denial of the incident which supposedly took place on 7 Jan 2008 in the Persian Gulf.

The US Navy is now backing away from some of its claims and is suggesting that the threat received in English on marine VHF channel 16 could have come from almost anywhere.

The US Navy is faced with another problem. The story that was released to the media does not jive with standard operating procedure for protection of ships at sea. The story the Pentagon promoted is now falling completely apart with the admission by the USN that the story issued to the press was much more dramatic and suggested a far greater threat than the ships on scene actually felt at the time.
The U.S. warships were not concerned about the possibility that the Iranian boats were armed with heavier weapons capable of doing serious damage. Asked by a reporter whether any of the vessels had anti-ship missiles or torpedoes, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, Commander of the 5th Fleet, answered that none of them had either of those two weapons.

"I didn't get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats," said Cosgriff.


He described the objects dropped by the Iranian boat as being "white, box-like objects that floated". That description indicates that the objects were clearly not mines, which would have been dark and would have sunk immediately. Cosgriff indicated that the ships merely "passed by them safely" without bothering to investigate whether they were explosives of some kind.

The apparent absence of concern on the part of the U.S. ships' commanding officers about the floating objects suggests that they recognised that the Iranians were engaging in a symbolic gesture having to do with laying mines.

Cosgriff's answers to reporters' questions indicated that the story promoted earlier by Pentagon officials that one of the U.S . ships came very close to firing at the Iranian boats seriously distorted what actually happened. When Cosgriff was asked whether the crew ever gave warning to the Iranian boats that they "could come under fire", he said the commanding officers "did not believe they needed to fire warning shots".

As for the report circulated by at least one Pentagon official to the media that one of the commanders was "close to firing", Cosgriff explained that "close to" meant that the commander was "working through a series of procedures". He added, "[I]n his mind, he might have been closing in on that point."
But the engagement never got that far. At all.

I can understand the captains of ships getting nervous at the idea of small fast boats buzzing around, particularly in the Persian Gulf, but there have been a few thing bothering me from the first release of this story.

There was obviously no communications prior to what we're seeing on the video. Typical of VHF channel 16 in the Persian Gulf, everyone who can get their hands on a cheap marine radio is using it for a multitude of purposes, so it's a pretty messy frequency.

Yet, the USN knew those boats were Iranian. That means they had encountered them at some point in the past or they had a description of boats used by the IRG navy. They possessed intelligence which, totally absent of markings, identified those boats as Iranian.

There have been a few comments in various places which suggest the boats could have been packed with explosives intent on a suicide attack, a la USS Cole.

Watch the video again and observe closely the people in the boats. They are not intent on a suicide attack. The captain of a warship would see the same thing I saw: the occupants of the boats, operating in broad daylight, are wearing lifejackets. That's a good boating safety practice but hardly something a suicide attacker is likely to do.

Vice Admiral Cosgriff was clearly not taking the position that this encounter, which is not unique in the Persian Gulf, was any form of threat or military provocation. The Pentagon turned it into that.

And the Bush administration tried to capitalize on it. Now they can deal with the blowback.

Additional observation: In any modern navy, when a ship or unit is under threat of attack the ship goes to Action Stations or in USN parlance, General Quarters. There is a specific dress required by all personnel: helmets, anti-flash hoods and gloves, and body fully covered.

In the video provided by the USN, the ship in which the communications is being recorded is not at General Quarters.

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