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Iranian Recklessness
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. 1/15/08

As if the world needed any further evidence of the recklessness of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iranian regime, it was nevertheless provided anew by the dangerous and provocative harassing actions by several Iranian high speed vessels against a formation of three American warships transiting the Straits of Hormuz in international waters. The Iranian vessels closed the Americans ships in a threatening manner to within 500 yards before breaking off as one of our ships, the guided missile destroyer Hopper, was reportedly preparing to open fire on them. Radio transmissions, apparently from the Iranians, were heard to the effect that “We will come to you” and “you will explode.”

A spokesman for the Iranian government downplayed the incident as an ordinary occurrence, probably a case of mistaken identity. In fact, it was anything but ordinary and certainly not a case of mistaken identity, given the distinctive appearance of the three American ships: a Ticonderoga class guided missile cruiser, an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer and an Oliver Hazzard Perry class frigate. It was a blatantly hostile act by the Iranian vessels and blowing them out of the water would have been an appropriate response.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

As it happened, no shots were fired but the fact remains that the incident was a serious provocation. Civilians viewing news images of the Iranian speedboats may have considered them harmless but they need to recall the damage and loss of American lives resulting from the attack in 2000 on Hopper’s sister ship, USS Cole in Yemen by an innocent-looking but explosives-laden small craft that detonated on her port side killing 17 sailors, injuring 39 and causing major structural damage.

The three American ships were harassed while conducting a routine transit of the straits, a choke point for the heavy tanker traffic entering and exiting the Persian Gulf, carrying much of the world’s oil supply. The U.S. Navy and other navies as well as countless merchant ships routinely transit these waters. Part of our Navy’s mission is to keep such vital waterways secure and open to maritime commerce. Our Navy ships have, of course, a right to operate there and anywhere else in international waters. Moreover, they have right, indeed an obligation, to defend themselves with alacrity if threatened, not just in retaliation after damage is incurred or crewmembers killed or injured, but preemptively if an attack appears imminent. The way to prevent such an engagement is not for the man-of-war to exercise restraint but for the challenging vessels to avoid any maneuvers that might be construed as hostile.

The Iranian vessels, in closing at high speed American vessels engaged in a routine passage, committed , not a harmless prank but a decidedly hostile act deserving of a hostile response, preceded if possible by a warning shot. The warship is under no obligation to wait until it is attacked first. Involved here are multi-billion dollar ships with hundreds of American lives and sophisticated weapons and equipment onboard. They also constitute sovereign American territory wherever they happen to be.

It remains to be learned why the Iranian vessels were not engaged or retaliation ordered. There are plenty of precedents for doing so, even some involving less provocation. Unfortunately, there were also serious incidents involving naval vessels that did not result in forceful American responses. The seizure of the USS Pueblo in 1968 and the imprisonment and torture of her crew was not avenged by a nation fully engaged in the Vietnam War. The attack on Cole went essentially unanswered. Rogue nations such as Iran who threaten to destroy other nations and who constantly preach hatred of America may be under the impression that they can challenge and harass American ships with impunity because we are engaged and preoccupied with military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should disabuse them of that notion promptly and before another one of our ships get hit or another American sailor killed. Restraint in this regard is not a virtue. It is simply an invitation to terrorists to come get us. CRO

copyright 2008 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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