Friday, January 11, 2008

And Now For The Spin Cycle (Updated)

By Cernig

After saying yesterday that they actually had no idea where the mysterious voice on the DoD's tape of the encounter in the Gulf originated from, the US military are now saying that of course it had to be connected to the Iranian boats somehow. Then threatening dire consequences if it happens again.
Adm. William J. Fallon, chief of U.S. Central Command, said a threatening radio call heard during an encounter Sunday between U.S. Navy ships and Iranian boats in the Strait of Hormuz was likely connected to Iran's provocative actions. He said the exact origin of the message was still unknown.

"This kind of behavior, if it happens in the future, is the kind of event that could precipitate a mistake," Fallon told The Associated Press. "If the boats come closer, at what point does the captain think it is a direct threat to the ship and has to do something to stop it?"

...The Pentagon has released a video showing small Iranian boats swarming around U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz. In the recording, a man threatens in accented English, "I am coming to you. ... You will explode after ... minutes."

Fallon said Friday that the U.S. was still trying to determine the source of the threatening radio call but remained convinced that it was related to the actions of the Iranian boats.

"The voice is very strange. I don't know whether it came from the boats or one of the shore stations," he said in a telephone interview from Central Command headquarters in Florida. "But the timing of it is pretty suspicious. In my mind it is related to the maneuvers."

"It certainly doesn't sound like a third party that just happened to say something threatening at that moment," he added.

The radio call was heard over an open frequency often used by mariners to identify themselves and avoid accidents.

Iran has denied that its boats threatened the U.S. vessels and accused Washington of fabricating the video.
The military's claims are purely circumstantial - they can't prove a causal connection but will continue to claim there is one anyway. There's not a single mention anywhere of any investigation of the white boxes that were such a mysterious possible-threat in the water - they may or may not even exist because no-one salvaged one, shot video of them - or even took evasive action, according to the Fifth Fleet commander who told reporters yesterday the ships didn't treat them as threatening at all. No mention of or explanation for the strange non-Persian accent of the threatening voice. No mention of the lack of motor, wind or wave noise on that bit of audio when all are omnipresent elsewhere in the tapes. All of these are circumstantial evidence that the U.S. artificially hyped the incident.

It looks very like yesterday's admission that they didn't know where the voice originated was entirely spin cycle. The intent may be to defuse criticisms that the U.S. had itself faked that part of the tape in order to give ammunition to Bush's push in the Mid East, where he is attempting to get sceptical Arab nations to join the U.S. against Iran. I expect the mainstream media to lather, rinse and repeat.

Update Via Kevin Drum and Emptywheel at FDL - who both, like me, assume the Iranian video is as cherry-picked and faked up as the U.S. one and vice versa - comes some sense from Fred Kaplan.
And yet, as Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, told the Boston Globe's Bryan Bender and Farah Stockman on Monday, the U.S. commanders have no systematic way to halt a conflict if it begins to spiral. "I do not have a direct link with my counterpart in the Iranian Navy," he said. "I do not have a way to communicate directly with the Iranian Navy or [Revolutionary] Guard."

Through the darkest days of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow maintained a hot line. During most of those times, there were parallel forums for communication between the two sides' senior officers. Iran doesn't pose anything remotely resembling the threat that the United States and the Soviet Union posed to each other in those years. Here is yet another reason to establish diplomatic relations with Iran. You don't have to be friends to talk.
And broader history also teaches that you rarely gain what you want from fabricating war hype when there was no causus belli there to begin with.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about all of this is that the Bush administration, Ahmadinejhad regime, and their foreign policy fellow-hawks have to have these things explained to them at all.

Update 2 AP: The U.S. Navy said Friday that one of its ships had fired warning shots at a small Iranian boat in the Strait of Hormuz in December during one of two serious encounters with such craft that month.

The ship involved was the dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island. In another incident the same month, according to the Navy, the USS Carr "sent warning blasts on the ships whistle" to fend off three speedboats.

Two things:

1) So it looks like both the US Navy and the Iranians are right - this kind of thing is both a common incident and highly provocative, even dangerous, with the chances of a shooting war starting over one of these incidents pretty high.

2) So why did the Pentagon decide to make such a big deal about Sunday's incident, when no weapons were fired? I'd argue December was the correct time to make this stuff big news. Did the Pentagon get its orders from the White House as Bush visited the Middle East on a trip partly designed to create a coalition against Iran? Enquiring minds want to know.

Various media outlets are also reporting that the Pentagon has released what it says is the full video record of the 20 minute incident. The audio track is still spliced on - remember the two were originally quite seperate. If I find a copy, I'll link to it.

The BBC says:
Although some images in this longer version - lasting more than 30 minutes - are not very clear, they do not appear to show anything very different from what was already seen in the extract of some five minutes already released, the BBC's Vincent Dowd in Washington says.

The audio track is present throughout and very short exchanges of dialogue can be heard on the bridge of the USS Hopper, the destroyer from which the pictures were taken, our correspondent says.

He says the latest video does not shed more light on the origin of the voice hear on tape which initially the Pentagon came from one of the speedboats.
I'd love to see and hear for myself - especially where on the timeline the mystery voice happens and what the aftermath is.

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