Yesterday, in an address to government and business leaders in Abu Dhabi, President Bush said, “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. So the United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf — and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late.”
Bush may take comfort in the knowledge that, according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev and as the Jerusalem Post reports, “Israel and the US are ‘on the same page‘ regarding the gravity of the Iranian nuclear threat and their commitment to thwart it.” Even so, when Bush says “before its too late” to his Arab friends, most of them are probably taking comfort in completing that line with, “before its too late… for Bush to do anything about it.” He frets about only twelve months left on the clock — the rest of the world can’t wait for his term to end.
Witness the spectacle of an international “incident” that after a few days has devolved into a debate about a Filipino Monkey. The only comfort the White House can take from this drama is that the press never even noticed when the stage upon which it was set, came into question.
Iranian speedboats threatened US warships in international waters in the Straits of Hormuz. So far only one analyst — Kaveh L Afrasiabi, writing in Asia Times — has pointed out the most basic factual error in this account: there are no international waters in the Straits of Hormuz.
Let’s repeat that: there are no international waters in the Straits of Hormuz. The U.S. ships were in Iranian territorial waters exercising the “right of transit passage” afforded to them in international law by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which the United States has signed but which Congress has yet to ratify. This is why in the video of the incident, a U.S. naval officer can be heard saying, “I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law.”
However provocatively the Iranian speedboats might have been behaving, if from the outset, this incident had been reported as occurring inside Iranian territorial waters, the Pentagon’s first task would have been to educate the press and the public about some of the technicalities of international law as it applies to the Straits of Hormuz. That lesson would have sucked the air out of the story and Bush would have landed in Tel Aviv deprived of what he was clearly eager to employ in his latest round of fear-mongering rhetoric. Absent this rallying cry, there might have been a tiny possibility that he pay a bit of attention to the real concerns that resonate across the region.