The big news out of the Mid East today is this:
Five Iranian boats made aggressive maneuvers and showed hostile intent against three U.S. Navy ships at the weekend in the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route in the Gulf, the Pentagon said on Monday.The Pentagon's official spokesman told reporters that five armed Guards boats had approached the US ships, manouvering aggressively, and that the US Navy vessels issued warnings while preparing to take appropriate actions. Anonymous unofficial Pentagon sources told Reuters that
The Pentagon said the incident was serious. It described the Iranian actions as "careless, reckless and potentially hostile" and said Tehran should provide an explanation.
In Tehran, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman had no immediate comment on U.S. accounts of the incident.
There's a fair bit of speculation on Iranian motives today, from Blake Hounsell wondering if the IRGC commanders are doing some oil-market speculating to talk of a "Gulf of Tonkin" exersize and the inevitable Rightwing calls to bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Others see this incident as being connected to the US nomination races (no, really - everything is about the races for some folk) or to Bush's Mid-East visit.
Other Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Iranians made threats by radio and a U.S. captain was in the process of ordering sailors to open fire when the Iranian boats moved away.
...According to the officials, the radio transmission from one of the Iranian ships said: "I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes."
The officials said it was not unusual for Iranian boats to get close to U.S. ships in the strait but the radio transmission was unusual.
The officials said the Iranian vessels also dropped small white boxes into the water. It was not clear what the boxes contained.
While the latter is the most likely if this event - not unusual except for one Iranian redneck on a radio - was deliberately singled out for orders to that effect by some senior commander, I'm going with Dave Schuler's take - dumb hotdogs playing brinkmanship games.
I think it’s more likely that it’s just a bunch of IRG’s horsing around, taunting the Great Satan. You can’t peddle that sort of stuff for a generation or more without it having some effects.On both sides, Dave.
Update The Iranians are saying it was business as normal.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini played down the incident, suggesting it was an issue of misidentification. He did not comment on the U.S. claims of the Iranian boats' actions.Now, I don't believe for a second that the IRGC can't recognise "Navy cruiser USS Port Royal, destroyer USS Hopper and frigate USS Ingraham" from more than 200 yards. But I repeat that for there to be an ulterior motive behind this otherwise common incident, someone would have had to tell an IGRC boat skipper to make a very foolhardy radio call which the US has no transcript for. And I just don't believe that level of dumb machiavellism either. No, some out-of-order hotdog who will now find himself commanding the IRGC's bathtub on an icy mountain lake is a far more likely explanation.
"That is something normal that takes place every now and then for each party, and it (the problem) is settled after identification of the two parties," he told the state news agency IRNA.
The incident was "similar to past ones" that were resolved "once the two sides recognized each other."
Update Juan Cole agrees and notes "The US says it won't protest the incident, which means that they concur it wasn't an intentional provocation from Tehran."
Update 2 A follow-on post here, including a link to video of the incident.