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."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.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.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.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.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.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.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.