NEWS & OPINION: The American-Iranian communication gap

Dire straits

Just what were the Iranians up to Sunday, when five small Iranian gunboats reportedly came within a couple hundred yards of three U.S. Navy vessels, dropping “box-like objects” (naval mines?) in their path, while threatening messages were transmitted over the radio?

Was it a rogue operation? Were the Iranians seeking to undermine President Bush’s upcoming trip to the region? Testing U.S. reactions? Preparing for a future attack? Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, couldn’t say when briefing reporters yesterday, because the Navy honestly doesn’t know.

The 30-minute incident was far from the most serious altercation between U.S. and Iran in recent history. But, as long as there’s no dialogue between the two countries, even innocuous interactions can quickly become dangerous. [complete article]

Iranian boats press US ships

In a conference call with Pentagon reporters, Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the US Fifth Fleet, said the transmissions were to the effect that the “US ships would explode” – sparking fears of a repeat of the suicide bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000 that killed 17 US sailors.

But Roughead said it was unclear whether the radio warning came from Iranian vessels or from shore along the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow, 34-mile opening into the Persian Gulf, through which an estimated 40 percent of the world’s oil supply is shipped. Sunday’s incident occurred at 8 a.m. local time when the three American vessels were entering the Persian Gulf through the straits.

“In that part of the Gulf, who was saying what [is] sometimes very difficult to determine,” Roughead said. [complete article]

See also, Bush assails Iran for naval confrontation (NYT).

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