Armed Iranian speedboats swarmed three US warships in the strategic Strait of Hormuz over the weekend, radioing a threat to blow them up and sending tensions flaring ahead of President George W. Bush's trip to the Mideast, US officials said Monday.
Alan Note: after the small boat attack on the USS Cole in Yemen which tore a huge hole in the vessel and killed some 18 sailors, the swarm threat by small boats has become a key Iranian tactic against the more powerful US Navy ships.
This event. while appearing somewhat exaggerated by the Media, does miss underlining the key fact. Iran was testing at what point a REAL attack would meet with a response from the US Navy. As opposed to this "rehearsal" of brinksmanship testing reality.
"I'm coming at you and you will blow up in a couple of minutes," a Defense Department official quoted the radio transmission as saying.
Crew aboard two of the five speedboats also dumped floating boxes into the path of one of the vessels, but it passed them without incident, officials said.
Alan Note: these harmless WHITE boxes are MARKERS in an attack rehearsal. Such boxes are used to help guide these speed boats in placing explosives effectively and efficiently in poor lighting conditions. They were not an empty gesture.
The US government accused Iran of engaging in provocative and potentially hostile behavior and vowed "to confront Iranian behavior where it seeks to do harm to either us or our friends and allies in the region."
Iran played down the incident, which came just days before Bush travels to the region to boost the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and assure allies that Washington continues to view Iran as a threat.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini called it "an ordinary occurrence which happens every now and then for both sides."
He told the state news agency IRNA that it was "similar to past incidents and a natural and an ordinary issue."
Pentagon officials said Iranian speedboats swarmed three US navy ships in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday at around 0400 GMT, peeling off into two groups as they approached the ships.
The cruiser USS Port Royal, the destroyer USS Hopper, and the frigate USS Ingraham received a radio call threatening to blow them up and observed two of the speedboats drop floating boxes into the path of the Ingraham, officials said.
"They were called on radio, ships whistles were sounded -- those sorts of things -- to draw attention to the fact that their maneuvers were a cause of concern to the commanding officers," said Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the US Fifth Fleet.
Cosgriff said the warnings went unheeded, and that the speedboats came less than 500 meters (yards) of the US boats of a couple of occasions. Other defense officials put the distance at a couple of hundred meters.
Ship commanders responded by increasing their vessels' "onboard readiness," but no shots were fired, the admiral said.
"In this case, the commanding officers did not believe they needed to fire warning shots," he said.
Cosgriff said the incident lasted less than 30 minutes, ending when the Iranian speedboats turned and headed back to Iranian waters.
He said the US ships were at least 15 miles from the nearest Iranian land, and thus outside its 12 mile territorial limit in international waters.
The US ships were clearly marked, it was daylight and there was decent visibility, he said.
The use of armed speedboats and aggressive maneuvering fit the operating profile of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, rather than the regular Iranian navy.
Cosgriff said US Navy ships frequently encounter Iranian regular navy and Republican Guard vessels in the Gulf, but there have been no incidents like this one recently, he said.
"This is more serious because of the aggregate of the actions, the coordinated movement of the ships of the boats, the threats of maneuvering, the more or less simultaneous radio communication, the dropping of objects," he told reporters via video link from his headquarters in Bahrain.
"These are in my mind unnecessarily provocative," he said.
US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe issued a statement urging Iran "to refrain from such provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident in the future."
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said there was wide support in the region for Washington to confront negative Iranian behavior.
"We do all of this with an eye to encouraging those reasonables within the Iranian decision-making structure to make a different set of decisions about Iran playing a constructive role not only in the region but globally," he said.
The Strait of Hormuz is a crucial choke point for world energy supplies, with about 20-25 percent of the world's crude oil supplies passing through from Gulf oil producers.
The US Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain and US Navy officials say about three dozen US and coalition warships are in the region at any one time. The aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman currently is in the Gulf.
US Tells Iran to Back Down After Persian Gulf Skirmish
January 07, 2008 The Telegraph Damien McElroy
link to original article
The White House has told Iran that it risked provoking "a dangerous incident" after a weekend skirmish brought the two nations to the brink of conflict. US naval commanders were about to fire on a group of Iranian attack boats after being challenged at the mouth of the Gulf on Sunday, the Pentagon has disclosed.
Three US navy ships were targeted by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Navy as they entered the strait just after dawn.Five Iranian patrol boats came within 200 yards of the US vessels, issued threats over the radio and dropped mysterious objects into the water.
A transcript of the radio traffic revealed that the Iranians had warned the US commanders that an attack was underway: "I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes."
A "swarm" attack by small Iranian boats in the busy shipping lane is one of the prime security threats to the US navy presence.Its commanders were handing down an order to open fire when Iran navy patrol boats pulled back from international waters.
A Pentagon spokesman said the Iranians were "moments" away from coming under fire.
A statement issued by the US Navy Fifth Fleet said that the incident occurred at about 8am local time as the cruiser Port Royal, the destroyer Hopper and the frigate Ingraham were on their way into the Gulf and passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Tensions in the Strait, a narrow waterway responsible for 40 per cent of the global trade in oil shipments, have escalated as Washington and Teheran swap accusations over Iran's nuclear ambitions. The White House demanded that Iran refrain from further provocation but Teheran played down the incident as an "ordinary occurrence".
The Pentagon said the skirmishes constituted a "significant" act of aggression at the chokepoint of global oil supplies.An official said: "Five small boats were acting in a very aggressive way, charging the ships, dropping boxes in the water in front of the ships and causing our ships to take evasive manoeuvres.
There were no injuries but there very well could have been."Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons has seen the US-led naval coalition, based at the home of the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, dramatically increase its presence in the Gulf.
The Iranian response has been a series of dangerous exercises that have forced the coalition on to high alert.Operating procedures were overhauled last year after the Iranian navy seized 15 Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines, who were protecting Iraqi oil facilities at the head in the Gulf.
The British patrol was accused of trespassing in Iranian territory and surrendered without a shot, in part because air cover was withdrawn before the Iranians pounced.
The 15 crew of the frigate Cornwall were taken to Teheran where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presided over a humiliating ceremony announcing their release as an Easter "gift" to the British people.
Steps taken to ensure the superiority of allied naval firepower along the international boundaries of the congested shipping lanes include deployment of modern attack helicopters plus rapid reaction US coastguard boats and additional marine guards.
Task Force 152, the US-led naval coalition, officially acts in support of the oil-rich but militarily-weak states. With President George W Bush due to visit the region this week, Iran's threat to world oil supplies will loom large on the agenda.
The Strait of Hormuz is 34 miles across at its narrowest, but its navigable channel is just two miles wide, augmented by a two-mile buffer zone.
Analysts say current traffic carries 13.4 million barrels of crude oil per day, down from a peak of 17 million per day last year.The rate is expected to rise to 34 million barrels a day by 2020.An Iran-Iraq "Tanker War" in the mid-1980s reduced shipping by a quarter, forcing US intervention.