Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dire Staits (Of Hormuz) - Updated

By Cernig

The Iranians have denied making any inflammatory radio calls or being in possession of any mysterious white boxes in the Straits of Hormuz yesterday. Meanwhile the Bush administration are telling them that, whatever it is they deny doing, they better not do it again (or else, presumably).

Paul Kiel at TPM and some others are speculating about US incitement to a causus belli. If so, then maybe that's the reason for the US Navy's stockpiling far larger than usual reserves of aviation and naval fuel in the Gulf back in November.

Personally, I don't trust either story just because the authorities say so. Both have poor records on truthfulness. But I do know that the disputed and constricted waters of the Gulf are the perfect storm of an international incident waiting to happen. Robert Baer has previously written that there are still those within the Bush administration who want to see that happen, and today he writes about what he thinks the Iranians believe they can gain.

Maybe both nations' current administrations should knock off the mutual and self-serving provocative posturing? After all, both Presidents look likely to be replaced with more moderate voices by 2009.

Update Via Eric Martin, I see the US Navy says it has audio and video records. If they in fact bear out all US officials have been saying, then expect some minor IRGC commander to be dropped under the bus.

Update 2 Chunks of the 20-odd minutes of video and audio, totalling 4 minutes and spliced together into one seemless whole, have now been released and show a few small bright blue speedboats, with no visible weaponry and crewed by three to five people each, playing tag with the big US warships.

The official WMV file is here.

Although reports quote the audio as clearly containing:
"You are approaching coalition warships," the USS Hopper's crew warns. "You are straying into danger and may be subject to defensive measures. ... Request you alter course immediately to remain clear."

It is at that point that a heavily accented voice can be heard over the radio, apparently coming from the Iranians.

"I am coming to you," the voice says. "You will explode after a few minutes."

An American voice can be then heard repeating the words, incredulously, "You will explode in a few minutes."
those words aren't accompanied by any video - just a blank screen - and are far clearer, far less noisy, than the rest of the audio. The accent, to me, sounds faked. Also, and interestingly for an official tape of record, there are no time marks anywhere on the vdeo footage.

Now even so it's certainly a "provocative" incident - I don't think anyone has said any different. Even if there were no weapons visible, (hells, even if the boats were crewed by hotdogging rich-but-dumb students rather than URGC members) the boats could have been packed with explosives, for instance. But I'm not at all sure that it's as serious a thing as the Bush administration and many rightwing pundits seem to want it to be. The latter certainly seem to relish the chance of another war.

The US military are being rather more circumspect than the White House:
U.S. military officials, including [Vice Adm. Kevin] Cosgriff [the commander of U.S. 5th Fleet], cautioned, however, that they have not been able to connect definitively the radio call with one of the Revolutionary Guards boats.

``The ships were close enough to shore that the call could have come from a shore station, it could have come from another boat,'' said Cdr. Lydia Robertson, the 5th Fleet spokeswoman. ``But the call did happen while the small boats were there.''
That, given my own misgivings about the clarity of just that one part of the audio tape and about the heavy accent heard, seems to me to be a significant caveat.

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