The near-miss confrontation between Iranian speedboats and a U.S. naval convoy in the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday was a clear provocation by Iran, aimed at testing the reaction time of U.S. Navy commanders and the political will of the United States, sources within the Iranian military tell Newsmax.
The U.S. failed the test, because no shots were fired, the Iranians said.
As a result, the U.S. Navy can expect similar provocations in the future, as Iran seeks to determine what red lines the U.S. Navy is willing to draw in the narrow sea lanes.
“If the U.S. Navy had shown strength and directly opened fire, the Revolutionary Guards high command would understand that they can gain nothing in military hostilities with the United States,” Newsmax sources within the Iranian military said.
Instead, this latest incident has only fueled the aggressiveness of Iran’s leaders, who see that the United States has now followed Britain, which backed down after a group of British Marines was taken hostage in international waters by Revolutionary Guards patrol boats last spring.
Dramatic video footage released yesterday by the U.S. Navy showed five Iranian speedboats racing across the wake of a U.S. Navy convoy in the narrow international shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf on Sunday. [Edtor's Note: To view the Pentagon video, go here now.]
After a series of bull horn blasts and repeated warnings from the radio operator on the bridge of the destroyer USS Hopper, the sky-blue Iranian boats broke off — just seconds before U.S. commanders gave the order to open fire on them.
The entire incident lasted nearly 20 minutes, with the Iranians taunting the Americans in the final moments. “I am coming to you . . . You will explode in few minutes,” an Iranian radioed the Americans from his speedboat.
The other two boats in the U.S. convoy were the guided missile cruiser USS Port Royal, and the guided missile frigate USS Ingraham.
All three boats are among the most modern in the U.S. fleet.
By way of example, the USS Port Royal, the last of the Ticonderoga class cruisers, cost $1 billion and carries a crew of 33 officers, 27 chief petty officers, and 340 enlisted men.
“The incident on January 6 was unusual in that it involved the taunting of U.S. Navy warships engaged in free passage through the Strait of Hormuz,” said retired Navy Cmdr. Joseph Tenaglia, a maritime security specialist who was deployed in the region on active duty during the tanker war in the 1980s and has been studying the region for 26 years.
“I think this is a game of chicken. You have some young hothead radicals with a speedboat and some weapons who are told go out and bother the Americans, but don't get too close or they may shoot. After all it's called the Persian Gulf not the American Gulf.”
But Iranian sources say that the provocation was part of a strategic plan, which Newsmax first revealed last spring, to test U.S. reactions in preparation of a full-scale confrontation with the United States that would involve naval and missile forces in the Persian, and terrorist surrogates around the world.
Last year, the Iranians flew drones close to U.S. aircraft carriers patrolling in the Persian Gulf and showed the footage on state-owned television. “This was their way of saying, ‘look how close we can get to you,’ said Sardar Haddad, an Iranian activist with close ties to Iranian intelligence and military circles.
“The have plenty of individuals who are willing to blow themselves up. If the U.S. Navy doesn’t take this seriously, they could face something worse than what happened to the USS Cole,” he added.
The Iranian provocation occurred on the eve of President Bush’s eight-day visit to the Middle East, where he plans to discuss the threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons program with Israel and other U.S. allies in the region.
President Bush responded categorically to the Iranian thrust just before setting out for his Middle East tour.
“They should not have done it, pure and simple,” Bush told reporters. “I don’t know what their thinking was, but I’m telling you what I think it was — I think it was a provocative act.”
The timing of the Iranian probe clearly was aimed at sending a signal to the United States and to America’s friends on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf, who closely monitor traffic through the Strait of Hormuz.
The Arab gulf states have bad memories of Iranian actions during the final years of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, when Iranian Revolutionary Guards vessels seeded the narrow international shipping channels with naval mines that crippled oil tankers and ultimately provoked a U.S. military response.
They are also seriously worried by Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and its ability to conduct subversive actions against their regimes through local Muslim groups.
Iran is seeking to deter them from a closer alliance with the United States, and specifically, from allowing their territory to be used to launch strategic strikes against Iranian nuclear weapons facilities.
Peter Brookes, a former U.S. Navy officer and strategic analyst for the Heritage Foundation, believes that Israel is nearing a decision to unilaterally bomb Iran.
Simple, Brookes believes. Because Russia has finally set a date — sometime this spring — for delivering the first load of nuclear fuel to Iran’s nuclear reactor at Busheir, along the Persian Gulf coast.
Israel has twice launched airstrikes to cripple the nuclear programs of its declared enemies.
In June 1981, it struck the Osirak nuclear plant in Iraq. Last September, it struck a site in Syria which Brookes and other analysts believe was intended to house a nuclear weapons development program.
In both cases, Israel struck before any nuclear material was present, “to prevent radiation from the reactor being spewed into the atmosphere after a strike,” Brookes said last week.
A similar motive could now prompt Israel to strike Iran in the coming weeks or months, before the Russian nuclear material is delivered to Busheir, Brookes believes.
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