Earlier this week, the Pentagon said that three of its Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz had been harassed and provoked by Iranian speedboats. The Navy said it had felt so threatened that it was about to open fire on the boats. A four-minute video of the episode provided to the public by the Pentagon contained one particularly harrowing moment:
“I am coming to you,” a heavily accented voice says in English. “You will explode after a few minutes.”
Navy officials said the voice was recorded from the internationally recognized bridge-to-bridge radio channel.
Some bloggers were immediately skeptical, noting the voice did not sound Iranian. Iran released its own video, arguing the footage did not show any Iranian boats approaching the U.S. vessels, nor any provocation. Today, the Navy acknowledged that the verbal threat made in the tape may not have been Iranian:
“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.”
Without definitive evidence that it was Iran who was making the provocative verbal threats, Bush nevertheless seized on the episode — just hours before he was set to depart for the Middle East — to underscore “his assertion that the Iranians are capable of acting recklessly.” “We viewed it as a provocative act,” Bush said. Yesterday, he warned Iran, “There will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple.”
Newshoggers has more.
UPDATE: At a Pentagon news conference just now, a reporter asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “You said yesterday that other similar incidents have occurred. Can you say what about this incident on Sunday was particularly different that created such a stir?” Gates argued there were more Iranian boats this time, and they were “more aggressive.” Watch it:
UPDATE II: Gareth Porter writes, “New information over the past three days suggests that the incident did not involve such a threat and that no U.S. commander was on the verge of firing at the Iranian boats.”