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Iran, U.S.: Bolstering the U.S. Version of a Naval Incident

4 MINS READJan 9, 2008 | 00:05 GMT
AFP/Getty Images
Summary
Video footage released by the U.S. Navy on Jan. 8 lends support to the Pentagon's assertion that Iranian navy vessels behaved in an overly aggressive fashion during an encounter with U.S. Navy vessels Jan. 6.
Video footage released by the U.S. Navy on Jan. 8 appears to lend credence to the Pentagon's contention of overly aggressive naval activity by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Jan. 6. The crews of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard warships routinely carry video equipment. Audio transmissions also routinely are recorded, making the documentation released Jan. 8 plausible. Since the incident came to light Jan. 7, the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which operates in these waters, has maintained that this issue was not routine — contrary to what Iranian officials have said. This assertion centers on four points:
  • Iranian vessels do not always respond verbally to standard internationally accepted bridge-to-bridge communication, but they generally do hold their positions or back off when contacted in this way by U.S. warships in the Gulf. This time, the Iranians continued on their course.
  • Navy sources repeatedly have emphasized the unusual and "extremely high rate of speed" at which the Iranian vessels approached, saying the Iranian boats "performed maneuvers considered to be hostile, unsafe and irresponsible" that were "extremely aggressive, provocative and unsafe."
  • The U.S. 5th Fleet has said that, during the incident, the Iranian watercraft were much closer in proximity to the U.S. warships than has become standard practice in recent years.
  • The Iranian vessels broadcast threatening verbal messages.
Based on the evidence presented Jan. 8, the U.S. claims appear to hold water. The video shows a handful of Iranian watercraft — small and not overtly armed in the grainy footage — maneuvering at high speed. The Iranian craft are circling the U.S. warships — initially the guided missile frigate USS Ingraham (FFG-61), which was at the tail of the three-ship formation. Then, footage shifts to the guided missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG-73). The guided missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) reportedly was in the lead. It is unclear whether the Iranian boats involved are all of the same type, since not all appear in any frame at the same time. But their behavior is blatantly harassing — probably not unlike being harried by WaveRunners. The Iranian vessels do not appear particularly large; in all likelihood, they are less than 40 feet long. Their apparent proximity lends credence to the U.S. claim that at least one watercraft made it within 600 feet of a U.S. warship. Combined with the threatening audio message included in the footage and the vessels' harassing behavior, the proximity of the Iranian watercraft would have been disconcerting to the Americans. Though small, the most prominent Iranian craft in the video is not unlike a cigarette racing boat in appearance. Larger racing boats of this type are capable of high sprint speeds above 75 knots in calm water and can sport outboard motors with an excess of 1,000 combined horsepower. An officer aboard the USS Port Royal Watercraft with even a third of that speed and maneuverability make modern-day sailors jittery at that distance, especially in the wake of the 2000 USS Cole bombing. Undoubtedly, these five Iranian boats constantly were in the field of fire of several of the four larger naval guns, six 25mm Bushmaster cannons and nearly one dozen .50-caliber heavy machine guns arming the small squadron of U.S. surface combatants. It seems odd that the Americans held fire for so long. Footage from WOAI Footage from BBC Footage from MSNBC Footage from CNN STRATFOR is not responsible for the content of other Web sites. This is not an indictment of the tactical decisions of U.S. commanders, but it continues to highlight the oddities surrounding the incident. Chief among these is how close the boats came to the U.S. ships without being fired upon, the lack of a formal U.S. protest considering the Iranians' apparent behavior and proximity and the way in which Tehran is downplaying the incident.

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