Thursday, January 10, 2008

Oh Look, Iran Has A Video Too (Updated)

By Cernig

As the Righties get their knickers all twisted because some of us don't - gasp - immediately take the US military and the Bush administration at their word over what happened in the Gulf on Sunday...Iran releases its own video of the events.

Reuters:

Iran released a video on Thursday which it said showed its boats did not threaten U.S. navy vessels in the Gulf, countering Washington's account of the event which President George W. Bush called "a provocative act."

The video, aired by Iran's Press TV satellite station, gave a completely different version of Sunday's incident in the Strait of Hormuz compared with one released earlier this week by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Press TV said the video, released by Iran's Revolutionary Guards a day after the force dismissed the Pentagon video as fake, included a recording of what it said was the exchange between the two sides.

Guards Brigadier General Ali Fadavi said the Iranian boats had only approached the U.S. ships to examine their registration numbers, Press TV said.

The video showed an Iranian naval officer in a small craft speaking via radio to a ship which could not be clearly identified.

"Coalition warship 73 this (is an) Iranian navy patrol boat," the officer said in accented English.

"This is coalition warship 73. I read you loud and clear," the person replied in what seemed to be an American accent.

The Iranian officer then asked for the ship to identify itself, though his words at times were indistinguishable:

"Coalition warship 73 this (is) Iranian navy patrol boat, request side number ... operating in the area (at) this time."
Here is part of that video, from the AP's video library. The Associated Press' earlier report says:
The grainy 5-minute, 20-second video - without sound or narration - showed a man speaking into a handheld radio, with three U.S. ships floating in the distance. It appeared to be shot from a small boat bobbing at least 100 yards from the American warships.

The footage did not show any Iranian boats approaching the U.S. vessels or any provocation. But the short clip likely did not show Sunday's entire encounter, which U.S. Navy officials described as threatening, and said lasted about 20 minutes.

...Later, another state TV channel aired four minutes of audio it said were radio communications between the Iranian boats and American ships.

"Coalition warship number 73, this is an Iranian navy patrol boat," a man's voice said in heavily accented English. "This is coalition warship number 73 operating in international waters," an American voice replied.

However the video they are hosting has mated the video and audio and clearly shows three US vessels of the correct classes to be the ships named by the US DoD as being involved. USS Port Royal, the Aegis class cruiser present at the incident, is designated CG73 by the US Navy.

Although the Iranian video shows the speedboats bobbing in the water, not racing around close to the US ships, just like the US video it too is a short and doubtless cherry-picked excerpt from a 20 minute event. (edit. Right at the end, for instance, it shows one of the boats begin to hare off in the direction of the US vessels. I meant to write that earlier but forgot, my apologies for the lapse. end edit) As such, it's just as inconclusive about what really happened as the US version.

Update The US Navy are now hedging their bets on their version of the incident:
The Navy never said specifically where the voices came from, but many were left with the impression they had come from the speedboats because of the way the Navy footage was edited.

Today, the spokesperson for the U.S. admiral in charge of the Fifth Fleet clarified to ABC News that the threat may have come from the Iranian boats, or it may have come from somewhere else.

We're saying that we cannot make a direct connection to the boats there," said the spokesperson. "It could have come from the shore, from another ship passing by. However, it happened in the middle of all the very unusual activity, so as we assess the information and situation, we still put it in the total aggregate of what happened Sunday morning. I guess we're not saying that it absolutely came from the boats, but we're not saying it absolutely didn't."
The AP points to those who benefit from the way the White House has played the original spin - and it isn't just the White House.
The motivation for Iranian fastboats to dare to challenge a convoy of three much larger but less maneuverable U.S. Navy warships as they sailed the Strait of Hormuz - very nearly provoking the Americans to open fire - is unclear. Regardless, it served some purpose for both governments.

From the point of view of President Bush, who opened a Middle East trip Wednesday with Iran high on the agenda, the episode in the Gulf underscored his assertion that the Iranians are capable of acting recklessly. The unspoken implication: Who knows what they might do if they got nuclear weapons?

Bush stressed his concern at a news conference in Jerusalem when a reporter asked what action the United States would take if Iranian naval boats again swarmed a U.S. warship in international waters and threatened to blow it up. The president accused Iran of a ``dangerous gesture'' and added, ``there will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple.''

Bush said ``all options are on the table to secure our assets.'' Iran continues to be a ``threat to world peace,'' he said.
And:
the incident serves a domestic political purpose for Ahmadinejad, for whom a flare-up in tensions with Washington can be seen as useful in advance of parliamentary elections scheduled for March.

In Paris, an official of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition of Iranian opposition groups, said he believed Ahmadinejad was looking for ways to create a confrontation with the Americans.

``The Iranian regime, facing rising public discontent and anti-government demonstrations in Iran, is in more need of show of force than ever before,'' Mohammad Mohaddessin, chairman of the resistance group's foreign affairs committee, said in an e-mail exchange Wednesday. ``Aggressive belligerence and crisis-making to cover up its weakness and isolation at home has been the clerical regime's strategy since placing Ahmadinejad as its president.''
Just great - both warmongering camps got what they most wanted out of this one.

The AP also by implication points to where the Navy's new-found caution may have come from - SecDef Gates being the adult in the administration, again - and gives another bit of unseen information - just how close the incident was to Iranian waters
The full context in which the confrontation unfolded is not yet clear. There is some question, for example, about how often Iranian boats intercept U.S. warships transiting the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway that leads to the Gulf and through which a large portion of world oil supplies transit. The confrontation with the Iranian boats happened at the eastern end of the Straits, about three miles outside Iran's territorial waters, according to the Navy.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that, while he found the incident troubling and puzzling, he has been informed that there were ``two or three of these events - maybe not quite as dramatic as this one - over the last year.'' He said the latest episode was a ``reminder that there is a very unpredictable government in Tehran.''
The Iranians use a different criterion for judging their territorial waters' boundaries - one based upon an agreement with Iraq that the US denies is legal. It's possible that, in Iranian eyes at least, the meeting took place inside Iranian waters. If so, that would explain the speedboats' confrontational posing.

However, in a move which is surely in response to the Iranian pushback, the White House has reversed its earlier decision not to make a formal diplomatic protest.

Update 2 Gareth Porter writes that the Pentagon's earlier story is being rapidly walked back by no less than the commander of Fifth Fleet. (H/T Ken)
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."
Wow - that's some hype to put on a story.

Watch Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard, who had earlier said that anyone questioning the original account was simply helping the Iranian regime's propaganda and also advocated drowning the Iranian boats in a cruiser's bow wave, sputter in indignation.