The incident between US and Iranian ships earlier this week in the Strait of Hormuz is starting to look a lot less menacing than previously thought:
Unnamed Pentagon officials said on Wednesday that the threatening voice heard in the audio clip, which was released on Monday night with a disclaimer that it was recorded separately from the video images and merged with them later, is not directly traceable to the Iranian military.
That undercuts one of the most menacing elements from the Pentagon’s assertion that Iranian forces threatened the Navy ships: The voice on the radio saying, “I am coming to you. … You will explode after … minutes.”
Here’s an excerpt from an article in this morning’s New York Times on the Pentagon’s assessment of the audio:
The audio includes a heavily accented voice warning in English that the Navy warships would explode. However, the recording carries no ambient noise — the sounds of a motor, the sea or wind — that would be expected if the broadcast had been made from one of the five small boats that sped around the three-ship American convoy.
Pentagon officials said they could not rule out that the broadcast might have come from shore, or from another ship nearby, although it might have come from one of the five fast boats with a high-quality radio system.
The Iranian commander is heard to say, "Coalition warship 73, this is Iranian navy patrol boat." He then requests the "side numbers" of the U.S. warships. A voice with a U.S. accent replies, "This is coalition warship 73. I am operating in international waters."
The dramatic version of the incident reported by U.S. news media throughout Tuesday and Wednesday suggested that Iranian speedboats, apparently belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy, had made moves to attack three U.S. warships entering the Strait and that the U.S. commander had been on the verge of firing at them when they broke off.
Typical of the network coverage was a story by ABC’s Jonathan Karl quoting a Pentagon official as saying the Iranian boats "were a heartbeat from being blown up".
Bush administration officials seized on the incident to advance the portrayal of Iran as a threat and to strike a more threatening stance toward Iran. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley declared Wednesday that the incident "almost involved an exchange of fire between our forces and Iranian forces". President George W. Bush declared during his Mideast trip Wednesday that there would be "serious consequences" if Iran attacked U.S. ships and repeated his assertion that Iran is "a threat to world peace".
Central to the depiction of the incident as involving a threat to U.S. warships is a mysterious pair of messages that the sailor who heard them onboard immediately interpreted as saying, "I am coming at you…", and "You will explode after a few minutes." But the voice in the audio clearly said "I am coming to you," and the second message was much less clear.
Furthermore, as the New York Times noted Thursday, the recording carries no ambient noise, such as the sounds of a motor, the sea or wind, which should have been audible if the broadcast had been made from one of the five small Iranian boats.
This incident demonstrates how easily miscommunication and misinformation can lead to potential escalation. That is why Peace Action West will be working with other organizations to build a strong mandate for diplomacy with Iran and raise the political cost of potential military confrontation in 2008.