* Naval incident: Tonkin II attempt by neocons??


Richard Moore

Bush Exploits Strait Of Hormuz Incident To Threaten Iran
By Peter Symonds

Inter Press Service News Agency
Friday, January 11, 2008   16:54 GMT

Official Version of Naval Incident Starts to Unravel


Analysis by Gareth Porter*

WASHINGTON, Jan 10 (IPS) - Despite the official and media portrayal of the 
incident in the Strait of Hormuz early Monday morning as a serious threat to 
U.S. ships from Iranian speedboats that nearly resulted in a "battle at sea", 
new information over the past three days suggests that the incident did not 
involve such a threat and that no U.S. commander was on the verge of firing at 
the Iranian boats.

The new information that appears to contradict the original version of the 
incident includes the revelation that U.S. officials spliced the audio recording
of an alleged Iranian threat onto to a videotape of the incident. That suggests 
that the threatening message may not have come in immediately after the initial 
warning to Iranian boats from a U.S. warship, as appears to do on the video.

Also unraveling the story is testimony from a former U.S. naval officer that 
non-official chatter is common on the channel used to communicate with the 
Iranian boats and testimony from the commander of the U.S. 5th fleet that the 
commanding officers of the U.S. warships involved in the incident never felt the
need to warn the Iranians of a possible use of force against them.

Further undermining the U.S. version of the incident is a video released by Iran
Thursday showing an Iranian naval officer on a small boat hailing one of three 

The Iranian commander is heard to say, "Coalition warship 73, this is Iranian 
navy patrol boat." He then requests the "side numbers" of the U.S. warships. A 
voice with a U.S. accent replies, "This is coalition warship 73. I am operating 
in international waters."

The dramatic version of the incident reported by U.S. news media throughout 
Tuesday and Wednesday suggested that Iranian speedboats, apparently belonging to
the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy, had made moves to attack three U.S. 
warships entering the Strait and that the U.S. commander had been on the verge 
of firing at them when they broke off.

Typical of the network coverage was a story by ABC's Jonathan Karl quoting a 
Pentagon official as saying the Iranian boats "were a heartbeat from being blown

Bush administration officials seized on the incident to advance the portrayal of
Iran as a threat and to strike a more threatening stance toward Iran. National 
Security Adviser Stephen Hadley declared Wednesday that the incident "almost 
involved an exchange of fire between our forces and Iranian forces". President 
George W. Bush declared during his Mideast trip Wednesday that there would be 
"serious consequences" if Iran attacked U.S. ships and repeated his assertion 
that Iran is "a threat to world peace".

Central to the depiction of the incident as involving a threat to U.S. warships 
is a mysterious pair of messages that the sailor who heard them onboard 
immediately interpreted as saying, "I am coming at you...", and "You will 
explode after a few minutes." But the voice in the audio clearly said "I am 
coming to you," and the second message was much less clear.

Furthermore, as the New York Times noted Thursday, the recording carries no 
ambient noise, such as the sounds of a motor, the sea or wind, which should have
been audible if the broadcast had been made from one of the five small Iranian 

A veteran U.S. naval officer who had served as a surface warfare officer aboard 
a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Gulf sent a message to the New York Times on-line 
column "The Lede" Wednesday pointing out that in the Persian Gulf, the 
"bridge-to-bridge" radio channel used to communicate between ships "is like a 
bad CB radio" with many people using it for "hurling racial slurs" and 
"threats". The former officer wrote that his "first thought" was that the 
message "might not have even come from one of the Iranian craft".

Pentagon officials admitted to the Times that they could not rule out that the 
broadcast might have come from another source

The five Iran boats involved were hardly in a position to harm the three U.S. 
warships. Although Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman described the Iranian boats 
as "highly maneuverable patrol craft" that were "visibly armed," he failed to 
note that these are tiny boats carrying only a two- or three-man crew and that 
they are normally armed only with machine guns that could do only surface damage
to a U.S. ship.

The only boat that was close enough to be visible to the U.S. ships was unarmed,
as an enlarged photo of the boat from the navy video clearly shows.

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.

The edited Navy video shows a crewman issuing an initial warning to approaching 
boats, but the footage of the boats maneuvering provides no visual evidence of 
Iranian boats "making a run on U.S. ships" as claimed by CBS news Wednesday in 
its report based on the new video.

Vice Adm. Cosgriff also failed to claim any run toward the U.S. ships following 
the initial warning. Cosgriff suggested that the Iranian boat's manoeuvres were 
"unduly provocative" only because of the "aggregate of their manoeuvres, the 
radio call and the dropping of objects in the water".

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."

Despite Cosgriff's account, which contradicted earlier Pentagon portrayals of 
the incident as a confrontation, not a single news outlet modified its earlier 
characterisation of the incident. After the Cosgriff briefing, Associated Press 
carried a story that said, " U.S. forces were taking steps toward firing on the 
Iranians to defend themselves, said the U.S. naval commander in the region. But 
the boats -- believed to be from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's navy -- 
turned and moved away, officials said."

That was quite different from what Cosgriff actually said.

In its story covering the Cosgriff briefing, Reuters cited "other Pentagon 
officials, speaking on condition of anonymity" as saying that "a U.S. captain 
was in the process of ordering sailors to open fire when the Iranian boats moved
away" -- a story that Cosgriff had specifically denied.

*Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest 
book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", 
was published in June 2005.


Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.

Bush Exploits Strait Of Hormuz Incident To Threaten Iran
By Peter Symonds
11 January, 2008


Five days after Sunday¹s encounter between US warships and Iranian boats in the 
Strait of Hormuz, details of what took place remain in dispute. What is clear, 
however, is that the US administration, at the very least, deliberately inflated
the incident on the eve of President Bush¹s visit to the Middle East to menace 
Iran and raise the political temperature in the volatile region.

Speaking on Tuesday, just hours before departing, Bush accused Iran of ³a 
provocative act², saying: ³It is a dangerous situation, and they should not have
done it, pure and simple.² Speaking in Jerusalem the following day after meeting
with Israeli leaders, he went one step further, warning Tehran of ³dangerous 
consequences² if US ships were attacked. ³All options are on the table to 
protect our assets,² he said, ³My advice to them is, don¹t do it.²

Bush¹s aggressive language was obviously appreciated by the Israeli government, 
which has been sharply critical of last month¹s National Intelligence Estimate 
(NIE) by 16 US agencies that Iran had ended any nuclear weapons program in 2003.
The assessment undercut the escalating propaganda campaign by the Bush 
administration and its Israeli allies for tough international action to force 
Iran to shut down its nuclear facilities. The incident in the Strait of Hormuz 
conveniently provided Bush with the opportunity to renew his warnings of the 
alleged danger posed by Iran.

³Iran was a threat, Iran is a threat and Iran will be a threat to world peace if
the international community does not come together and prevent that nation from 
the development of the knowledge to build a nuclear weapon,² Bush declared. ³A 
country that once had a secret program can easily restart a secret program. A 
country which can enrich [uranium] for civilian purposes can easily transfer 
that knowledge to a military program.²

Just over a month ago, Bush and his officials were insisting that Iran had a 
nuclear weapons program and posed an imminent threat. Now, without missing a 
beat, the president insists that Iran remains a threat and must be prevented 
from having the ³knowledge² to build a nuclear weapon. Moreover, the hypocrisy 
involved in making such a statement in Israel, which has covertly manufactured 
its own nuclear weapons, is breathtaking. While Bush speaks of the Iranian 
threat, Israel and the US are both notorious for launching unprovoked military 
strikes and wars of aggression in the Middle East.

Over the past year Israel has issued its own menacing warnings that it would not
permit Iran to gain nuclear weapons. Reports in the British press have pointed 
to advanced Israeli preparations for air strikes on Iran¹s nuclear facilities. 
Following talks with Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert indicated Iran had
been a major topic of discussion and that he had been reassured. ³I certainly am
encouraged and reinforced, having heard the position of the United States under 
the leadership of George Bush, particularly on this subject,² he said.

Comments by Israel¹s ambassador to the US, Sallai Meridor, highlight the 
determination of Israel and the US to heighten the confrontation with Iran, 
despite the NIE findings. After explaining that the two governments were ³in 
sync and think similarly², he responded to a question about a military strike on
Iran, by ominously declaring: ³Both the US and Israel haven¹t removed any option
from the table. All options are on the table, not only in the future.²

Doubts about Pentagon account

The political manner in which the US has exploited the naval encounter in Strait
of Hormuz to inflame tensions is out of all proportion to the incident itself. 
According to the original Pentagon account, five small, lightly-armed Iranian 
speedboats allegedly buzzed three US warships passing through the strait. One of
the Iranian vessels dropped several white, floating box-like objects, causing 
one US ship to alter course. A radio message warned: ³I am coming to you. You 
will explode after a few minutes.² Naval personnel warned the Iranian boats to 
keep their distance and manned weapons.

No weapons were fired and the Iranian vessels backed off. Indeed, while an 
unnamed US official acknowledged that the US warships were minutes from opening 
fire, the Iranian boats, which came no closer than 500 metres, displayed no 
obvious sign of hostile intent. The three US vessels‹the guided missile cruiser 
USS Port Royal, the guided missile destroyer USS Hopper and the guided missile 
frigate USS Ingraham‹were all heavily armed with machine guns, Phalanx close-in 
weapons systems, torpedoes and large calibre guns.

Over the past five days, holes have begun to appear in the initial Pentagon 
story. The US navy released a video of the Iranian speedboats spliced together 
with audio from the bridge of one of the ships. No mention was made of the white
boxes and the key word ³few² in the radio threat was indecipherable. The video, 
which has been widely broadcast, runs for only 4 minutes and 20 seconds and was 
thus an edited version of the 20-minute incident using audio from just one 

Commander Lydia Robertson, spokeswoman for the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, 
acknowledged yesterday that the navy could not be certain the radio message even
came from one of the five Iranian boats. It may have come from another ship in 
the area or from shore, she said, adding: ³We don¹t have a direct connection, 
but it¹s not necessarily a disconnect.² Another aspect of the ³threat² is also 
odd‹there is no background noise as one would expect in a broadcast from a small
high-speed boat.

Iranian officials dismissed the incident as an ordinary occurrence and denied 
that any threat was made. An unnamed spokesman for the Iranian Revolution 
Guards, which operated the boats, told state-run TV: ³The footage released by 
the US Navy was compiled using file pictures and the audio has been fabricated.²
Tehran has now released its own edited video of the events showing an Iranian 
officer in a small craft speaking via radio to ³coalition warship 73² and 
carrying out routine identification procedures.

Iran¹s low-key response tends to indicate that no one in Tehran is seeking to 
make political mileage out of the incident. In fact, the regime has more to lose
than to gain by heightening tensions with the US. The Iranian government has 
been seeking to finalise arrangements for another round of talks in Baghdad 
involving the US and Iranian ambassadors over security in Iraq. Over the past 
month, Tehran has improved relations with neighbouring Gulf states, making 
advances that would be upset by any new confrontation.

The Bush administration on the other hand has been seeking at every turn to 
pressurise and provoke Iran. On Wednesday, the US Treasury Department imposed 
new financial penalties on a top-ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guard general, 
Ahmed Foruzandeh, a Syrian-based television station and two Iraqis living in 
Iran for allegedly fuelling the anti-US insurgency in Iraq.

When he heads to the Persian Gulf tomorrow, Bush will find no enthusiasm among 
US allies for a conflict with Iran. Gerd Nonneman, an academic at Exeter 
University, told Reuters: ³The royal families in the Gulf are looking at the 
Bush visit with slightly weary resignation... On the one hand they want a joint 
diplomatic strategy to avoid a nuclear-armed Iran but they are saying we think 
we can engage Iran more effectively. We think we can take the sting out of this 
by engaging with Iran.²

Iran¹s longstanding regional rival, Saudi Arabia, has explicitly declared that 
it will rebuff any US demand to break off relations with Tehran. Saudi Foreign 
Minister Saud al-Faisal told a press conference on Wednesday: ³We¹ll listen to 
everything the [US] president says. He can raise any issue he likes. [But] we¹re
a neighbour to Iran in the Gulf, which is a small area, so we¹re keen for 
harmony and peace among countries in the area.²

For the Bush administration, the incident in the Strait of Hormuz could not have
been better timed to stymie the development of diplomatic relations with Iran, 
to heighten tensions in the region and possibly to justify a further US military
buildup against Tehran. It cannot be ruled out that the US, which has a long 
history of engineering provocations, concocted this latest naval encounter to 
meet these political purposes.

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