Monday, January 07, 2008

Iran 'taunts' US warships

Five Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats "harassed and provoked" three U.S. Navy ships early Sunday in international waters, the U.S. military said Monday. The incident has been referred to as a "significant" confrontation and nearly came to blows after it emerged that US warships were about to fire on the Iranian boats. But just before the order to fire came, the speed boats turned back. It is the first major incident between the Iranian regime and the West since several British naval personnel were captured last year.

Although the news made headlines earlier in the day, it was soon pushed to the back of the news agenda by the early evening. Channel Four News did not report on the incident in its evening broadcast. And Sky and the BBC only made passing references in their later broadcasts. However, it was the top story on CNN. Al-Jazeera placed it twelve minutes into its evening news but gave less than 30 second to the story. According to reports, five speed boats ‘swarmed’ around the American warships in the Strait of Hormuz issuing threats via radio. One read, "I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes".

But whilst the Iranian authorities dismissed the incident as ‘normal’ and ‘something that happens from time to time’, the Pentagon and the White House saw it as far more serious. A spokesman for the White House called the action ‘provocative’ and said it could ‘lead to a dangerous incident in the future’.

The BBC reported the incident to have occurred at 04:00 local time on Sunday and lasted around 20 minutes. The Pentagon has insisted that the three US vessels - identified as navy cruiser USS Port Royal, destroyer USS Hopper and frigate USS Ingraham - were in international waters. Quite what the repercussions of hostile action would have been can only be speculated. However, a recently broadcast documentary, concerning the 1983 NATO exercise Able Archer, highlighted just how misinterpreted actions could lead to nuclear war. There are differences in the way information is collected by intelligence agencies since 1983, but mistakes too still occur. The war on Iraq was built around the premise that the country possessed ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’. That intelligence proved to be false. And only recently the US intelligence community released a report that said Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons programme in 2003.

There may well be action taken by the US against the Iranian regime. But what might be precipitated by such action is something we should all be concerned about [CNN / Sky News / Al-Jazeera].

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