Friday, January 11, 2008

Naval Incident Unravels

Official Version of Naval Incident Starts to Unravel

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 ships.

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."

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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 boats.

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".

h/t Bergs

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