Friday, January 11, 2008

What Happened in the Strait of Hormuz, Revisited

If you want to see the latest example of Bush Derangement Syndrome (DRS), look at the comments on today's Washington Post article that offers more details last weekend's naval encounter between U.S. and Iranian forces.

According to the Post, the Pentagon now says that the apparent radio threat to bomb American warships "may not have come from the five Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats that approached them -- and may not even have been intended against U.S. targets."

The WaPo account is based on statements from a Navy spokesman on the nature of the radio call, and comments from Farsi speakers that the heavily-accented voice (which announces "I am coming to you. You will explode after a few minutes)" does not sound Iranian.

For the left-wing kook fringe, those comments are proof positive that Sunday's episode was an attempt by than the Bush Administration to create a "Gulf of Tonkin" incident, and provide a justification for attacking Iran. Some sample thoughts from Post readers:

We have come to a place where we must view every single pronouncement from this government as a lie. But that won't stop Bush from starting another war based on lies. We are in big big trouble in this country, and I blame Pelosi and all the other craven Democrats who agree that "Impeachment is off the table" for all of

[snip]

The news that the threats may not have come from Iranian sources is no surprise to most citizens who have endured the BS proffered by Bush/Cheney and Co.Most citizens reading the original story posted their response to the effect that this was another phony "Tonkin Gulf" scenario. Meanwhile, our leader, our DECIDER, had decided that it was a "provocative act". Let's be bellicose without a thorough examination of the facts is Bush's motto.The average citizen be he or she a cab driver, bartender, firefighter or child has more insight than the current incumbent, the current congress and the current crop of presidential candidates.

[snip]

This was front page headline on every newspaper, why don’t I see them posting the real truth now??? Washington Post - change the title of this article from “Iranian Boats May Not Have Made Radio Threat, Pentagon Says” to “Iranian Boats Did Not Make Radio Threat” We cannot have this administration just run around like monkeys and do as they desire. We have lost respect in the world and we cannot send our brave men and women to fight another useless war. I cant wait till these morons are out of office!

[snip]

Where's Chief Sociopath Cheney? What role did he have in this?

Still, a closer examination of the article doesn't exactly disprove a threat to the U.S. vessels. True, the Iranian radio call came on a frequency used by commercial and military ships operating in the region. And, without extensive direction-finding (DF) and SIGINT analysis, the traffic can't be conclusively linked to the speed boats, operated by Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

But that doesn't mean the radio threat didn't come from an IRGC naval unit. Those Iranian speedboats weren't out on a joyride; they were dispatched by a higher headquarters--perhaps the IRGC command element in Bandar Abbas--and it's a safe bet that those authorities were in radio contact with the small craft.

Additionally, if you assume that the Iranians were trying to provoke the U.S. (and their aggressive maneuvering certainly suggests that scenario), then it is quite possible that multiple military elements, including coastal surveillance radars, other naval vessels, anti-ship missile batteries, aircraft, SIGINT asset and command headquarters were involved, to varying degrees. As part of a larger, pre-planned operation, it would be quite easy for another Iranian unit to make a threatening radio call, as the fast boats moved into position.

Tehran also knows that it's difficult for the U.S. to refute claims of a benign event, because a more detailed discussion would mean reveal intelligence sources and methods. Iran would certainly like to know more about our SIGINT capabilities in the Persian Gulf region, and their account of the incident is an (indirect) attempt to prod us into greater disclosures about Sunday's incident.

By releasing a vastly different version of events, Tehran can depict the U.S. Navy as a potential aggressor, challenging the administration to release more details on radio and emitter traffic during the event. Learning what we collected--and when we collected it--would be an intelligence windfall for Iran. So far, the U.S. has (rightly) refused to take the bait.

As we noted in a previous post, the decision of U.S. commanders to hold their fire was based on a variety of factors, including intelligence data. Information available in the ship's combat information centers (CICs) may have provided key insights into the Iranians' intentions, giving commanders the data they needed to make the right decision.

Put another way: the commanders of our vessels knew what Iranian assets were active, and had some idea of what they were saying to each other. Based on that knowledge, they (apparently) viewed the small boats as a localized threat, assessing that other Iranian naval, air and missile units were not prepared to join the fray. Under those conditions--and with that level of intel detail--it would be easier to hold fire, and avoid triggering a much more serious incident.

Obviously, no intelligence system is perfect and even a modern CIC will have information gaps. But the fidelity of detail available on Sunday morning was sufficient for our naval commanders to correctly judge the situation and make the right tactical decision. And, you'll have to forgive the Navy (and the intel community) if they don't want to discuss the sources and methods that provided that data.

***

ADDENDUM: The Post's claims about the radio voice's "lack" of an Iranian accent are laughable, quite frankly. Like every other country, Iran has military personnel and civilian linguists who can speak without a native accent, or mimic the dialect and speech patterns of another language, such as Arabic. In fact, Iran is a multi-lingual country where a variety of tongues, including Farsi, Kurdish or Lori (Arian), Azeri, Turkemen, Qashqai’, or Afshari (Altai) or Arabic, Hebrew or Assyrian (Semitic) are spoken. Readers will note that Post reporter Robin Wright forgot to ask if the accent matches any of the other languages spoken in Iran.

Finally, the use of a non-Farsi speaker--or, at least someone without that accent--suggests a very sophisticated operation, most likely the work of the IRGC, which was clearly in command of those speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz. Readers will also note that the Iranian vessels were very real and very close to our ships, as evidenced by videotape of the incident. That's quite a contrast to the Gulf of Tonkin where declassified information proves that no attack occurred, and the North Vietnamese gunboats--if they existed--were never closer than 10,000 yards from the U.S. vessels.

11 comments:

Broadsword said...

Very cogent. Especially noting how many languges are indigenous to Iran. The inability of individuals to ask themselves, "Do I know thus-and-such for certain?" continaully astonishes me. Monty Python: "And what else do we burn besides witches?" "More witches!" "And why do they burn...?" "Because they're made of wood...?"

Walter said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERn75VRlc-o&feature=related

look at the above youtube video that claims to be made from an Iranian UAV shadowing a US carrier in the Gulf.

Geekster said...

Reminds me of the time one of my co-workers spoke to an assembly line workers in Vietnamese. Her eyes got HUGE. I asked her if he had ever heard an American speak Vietnamese before, she said "Not with a Hanoi accent".

Geekster said...

Actually, I quite like this analysis from Amir Taheri in Asharq Alawsat

Ofc. said...

This "not an Iranian accent" business is just pathetic.

People speaking in a language other than their own typically have the accents of the people who taught them. I've been told I speak Spanish with a Salvadoran accent. Who knew?

I knew a Turk who spoke English with a deep Australian accent.

RH Potfry said...

Or, this version suggests a French accent...

http://www.thenoseonyourface.com/2008/01/10/new-video-suggests-french-involvement-in-usiran-naval-confrontation/

Lyle said...

It is common for Americans to assume that governments act according to a unified single plan. I believe that happens because (for the most part) our own various military forces hew closely to the policy goals of the CiC, and the various civilian agencies that claim to speak for official government policy mostly do.

But that is not true of many foreign governments, particularly the less stable ones. I think you can assume that the more recent their last revolution, the more likely that some noteworthy action does NOT reflect official government policy.

In other words, I think it is naive to refer to the actions of the Revolutionary Guard as if they necessarily reflect policy from "Tehran". They might. They might not.

Iran has multiple factions jockeying for power and so it is not hard to believe that the Quds Force might want to provoke actual military action by the US, while Ahmedinijad only wants to posture.

Failure to understand the tenous position that Middle Eastern leaders are in is probably what has involved us in both Gulf Wars (I and II) and could involve us in yet another. These guys must walk a fine line to project an appearance of great strength to their domestic audiences without actually getting taken out by the US. I don't think it would hurt us to recognize that much of their anti-American rhetoric is intended for domestict consumption.

JJ Joseph said...

It's puzzling that the ships can't locate the source of the transmissions with a simple DF loop antenna. After all, this is the US military, and DF antennas have been around for at least 60 years. Couldn't they keep a 1940s Piper Cub on board with a loop antenna on the tail for just these situations?

Geekster said...

It's puzzling that the ships can't locate the source of the transmissions with a simple DF loop antenna."

Then we would have to disclose the effectiveness of our DF capability. Better to simply be quiet. Actually, I can't understand why people are still talking about it. Nobody was hurt. It's over.

Ken Prescott said...

I used to speak German . . . with what one woman described as "the thickest Bavarian accent" she'd ever heard.

My teacher was from Bavaria.

Obviously, it's a conspiracy by Bush & Cheney. (/sarcasm)

Jez said...

Just the latest in a US-Iran matchstick game dating back to the CIA-financed deposing of Mohammed Mosdadegh in 1953. Interesting that in the majority of cases historical data supports the so-called fringe left-wing kooks who are, in the current era, often little more than mislabeled sceptics whose 12-year old children could outscore their President on a college entrance examination. By contrast, many people who label themselves as realists, patriots, or so-called right-wingers think their government spreads peace and democracy when it has been shown repeatedly that it stops at nothing to topple fledgling democracies all over the world and install Generals and dictators, most notably in the Middle East and South America.