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thedrifter
01-08-08, 05:55 AM
Iranians harassed U.S. ships, Navy confirms

The White House warns Tehran after the incident in the Persian Gulf. Americans were preparing to fire on the approaching vessels, an official says.
By Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi, Special to The Times
January 8, 2008

TEHRAN -- A U.S. Navy official in Bahrain today confirmed the broad outlines of a weekend confrontation between U.S. and Iranian warships in the Persian Gulf.

Citing unnamed military officials in Washington, CNN, NBC and other news outlets reported today that one of five Iranian ships came within 200 yards of a group of three U.S. naval vessels Saturday night in international waters within the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow passage through which much of the gulf's oil reaches the world.

According to CNN's report, the Iranians radioed the Americans with a threatening remark. "I am coming at you," the Iranian said, according to military officials cited by CNN. "You will explode in a couple minutes."

U.S. troops manned their positions and officers prepared to give the order to fire, but the Iranians turned away, the U.S. officials told reporters in Washington. No shots were fired.

U.S. officials in the region provided few details of the incident other than to confirm a confrontation. "There was an incident that happened," said a Navy official reached by phone in Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf. "No American ships were taken over."

The White House called on Iran to desist from such moves. "We urge the Iranians to refrain from such provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident in the future," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, according to Reuters.

Iranian Foreign Ministry and security officials said they could not confirm the incident. Mohammed Ali Hosseini, a spokesman for the ministry, and Hamid Reza Haji Babaie, head of parliament's National Security Committee, said today that they had not yet been able to get information about any such confrontation, which reportedly involved the navy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a parallel military branch allied with Iranian hard-liners who sometimes have little to do with Iran's official governing bodies.

But the incident has prompted fears that hard-liners within the Iranian establishment are trying to sabotage a reduction in tensions between Washington and Iran. One source close to Iran's hard-line camp said Iranians were justified in warning U.S. or any other forces from straying into their territorial waters.

"Generally speaking, according to the supreme leader's [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's] guidelines, any foreign fleet of vessels or any foreign jet fighter trespassing Iran's water or land borders or air, whether in the Caspian Sea or Persian Gulf or Shatt al Arab, the Revolutionary Guards should react or at least threaten to counterattack," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It is general rule, so if U.S. forces trespass, we will respond."

Iran and the U.S. are at odds over Tehran's nuclear program and support for militant groups throughout the Middle East. The incident follows the December release of a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that undercut the possibility of war between America and Iran by reporting that Tehran had ceased a clandestine nuclear weapons program in 2003. It also follows an International Atomic Energy Agency report that generally praised Iran's efforts to come clean on its past nuclear activities.

Last week, Khamenei, the country's ultimate military and political authority, spoke in his Friday sermon of the possibility of one day normalizing relations with Washington, though he said now was not the time for a diplomatic breakthrough.

Analysts in the region said the easing of international tensions plays against hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose backers face a stiff challenge from reformist and moderates in upcoming parliamentary elections. One analyst and military expert said the timing of the incident may indicate that some in Iran's political and military establishment don't want an end to the tensions between Iran and the U.S.

"If the news is correct, it means some faction inside the country wants to make the water murky and create tension at the expense of the detente between U.S. and Iran at this juncture," said Davoud Hermidas Bavand, a Tehran political scientist. "The NIE and IAEA reports provided the window for reducing tension. But it seems some factions do not want it, which is very dangerous now. It's playing with fire."

The Revolutionary Guards in March detained 15 British sailors and Marines in disputed gulf waters off the coast of Iraq. The troops were released after about two weeks in captivity.

daragahi@latimes.com

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Daragahi from Beirut.


Ellie

thedrifter
01-08-08, 06:41 AM
Two minutes from war
US ships prepare to fire at Iran gunboats after radio threat
By Martin Fricker 08/01/2008

US warships came within seconds of firing at Iranian gunboats in a showdown that brought the countries to the brink of conflict.

An American captain ordered his men to battle stations after receiving a radio transmission that said: "I'm coming at you! You will explode in two minutes!"

Bloodshed was averted only after the five heavily armed Revolutionary Guard craft turned away at the last minute.

They were within 200 metres of three US ships in Sunday's tense stand-off in the Strait of Hormuz.

The 20-minute confrontation is the latest sign of rising tensions between President Bush and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A senior US military official said: "It is the most serious provocation yet."

They came over the early morning horizon like a swarm of angry wasps - five heavily armed Iranian gunboats captained by hothead Revolutionary Guards.

Recklessly, they weaved and darted so close to three patrolling US warships in the tense Strait of Hormuz that commanders had to take evasive action.

For a while they seemed no more than an irritant. Then a radio transmission from an Iranian craft just 200 metres away raised tensions to an unbearable height.

The voice barked: "I'm coming at you! You will explode in a couple of minutes!"

Edgy US officers knew a single shot from either side could spark an international crisis that could end in war. But they had no choice. With nerves fraying, sailors were immediately ordered to battle stations.

Only seconds before the crew were commanded to open fire the gunboats pulled away, dropping mystery white packages in their wake.

A senior US military official said yesterday: "They turned away literally at the very moment that US forces were preparing to open up. It was the most serious provocation of this sort we've ever seen."

Sunday's 20-minute confrontation was the latest sign of mounting antagonism between the US and Iran which many fear will end in full-blown conflict. Last night the White House warned Iran to back off.

In a strongly worded statement, it declared: "We urge the Iranians to refrain from such provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident."

Pentagon officials said the Revolutionary Guards "harassed, provoked and pretty much swarmed" the US vessels.

Spokesman Bryan Whitman branded their actions "careless, reckless and potentially hostile".

He fumed: "This was a serious incident which deserves an explanation.

"The boats made aggressive manoeuvres and indicated some hostile intent.

"This required our vessels to issue warnings and conduct evasive manoeuvring. Our Navy was prepared to take appropriate action." US Middle East expert Bruce Riedel, of the Brookings Institution think tank, said: "This is a vivid reminder that Iran is still a very dangerous country with a tremendous capacity to cause mischief."

The dramatic 4am incident in international waters involved the cruiser USS Port Royal, destroyer USS Hopper and frigate USS Ingraham.

It is not unusual for Iranian boats to approach British and US ships in the area.

In March Revolutionary Guards seized 15 British sailors and Marines in the Gulf accusing them of trespassing. The personnel were held for almost two weeks.

But Sunday was the first time threatening radio messages have been used.

Yesterday the Iranian Foreign Ministry shrugged away the latest stand-off by declaring: "What happened was similar to previous cases and is an ordinary issue."

A spokesman said the matter was "resolved" when the vessels identified themselves. However with Washington and Tehran at odds over a whole range of sensitive issues, there was no mistaking the gravity of the incident.

As an indication, oil prices soared briefly in the aftermath as dealers worried about disruption to shipments.

Significantly, the confrontation came as President Bush prepares for a six-day visit to the Middle East this week.

Only last week he said one aim of the trip was to counter Iranian ambitions in the region. Bush has long been engaged in a feud with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Tehran's nuclear programme.

Many fear he would rather go to war with Iran - which he dubs a member of the "Axis of Evil" - than let it build a nuclear weapon.

Bush has also enraged Ahmadinejad by accusing Iran of funding insurgents in Iraq.

In October, the US Government named the Revolutionary Guard as a "proliferator of weapons of mass destruction".

The two countries have not had formal diplomatic relations for more than 25 years.

Two F/A-18 fighter aircraft from the US Fifth Fleet crashed during operations in the Gulf on Monday. There were no fatalities.

BUSH ON IRAN

States like these threaten the peace of the world

AHMADINEJAD ON U.S.

You will not be able to stop the great Iranian nation

To continue reading and view pix's
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/topstories/2008/01/08/two-minutes-from-war-89520-20278134/

Ellie