AFP – January 9, 2008
Iran on Wednesday accused the United States of "clumsily" fabricating footage claiming to show Iranian speedboats harassing US ships, as tensions rose amid President George W. Bush's visit to the region.
"The pictures that the Pentagon broadcast of the naval incident are file pictures and the voices have all been fabricated," the Fars news agency quoted a senior commander in the Revolutionary Guards as saying.
The Pentagon released a video and audio tape on Tuesday that it said confirmed US charges that Iranian speedboats swarmed around US warships in the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday and radioed a threat to blow them up.
"The voices and pictures broadcast by the Pentagon about the latest incident have been fabricated so clumsily that the pictures and voices in the video are not even synchronized," added the source.
"That fact that it is a fake is clear to all."
Before arriving in Israel, Iran's arch enemy, on his first visit to the country as president, Bush lashed out at Tehran for what he described as a "provocative act" in the strategic waterway.
"We viewed it as a provocative act. It is a dangerous situation and they should not have done it, pure and simple," Bush declared.
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley also warned Iran against any repetition, saying the incident "came very close to resulting in an altercation between our forces and their forces.
"They've got to be very careful about this, because if it happens again, they are going to bear the consequences of that incident," he said.
"And we think the Iranians need to be on notice that they are fishing in troubled waters here."
The video, which the Pentagon said was taken from the bridge of the destroyer USS Hopper, showed fast boats approaching the warships at high speeds and racing around the Hopper, the USS Port Royal and the USS Ingraham.
A man's voice is heard in an audio recording speaking in English amid a sailor's urgent warnings to stay clear of the ship.
"I am coming to you... You will explode in a few minutes," the voice is heard to say.
Iranian officials had already dismissed the US version of the incident as anti-Iran propaganda ahead of Bush's visit to the Middle East, saying what happened was an everyday occurrence.
The Revolutionary Guards, Iran's elite military unit, have said that their naval forces merely identified the US vessels before both sides went on their way without any disturbance.
Bush landed in Israel on Wednesday in a bid to bolster recently-revived Middle East peace talks, a visit already slammed by Iran as needless meddling in the region.
"On the verge of Bush's already failed visit to the region, the Western media have attempted to put the US project to create fear against Iran on the agenda," the senior Guards commander told Fars.
Bush -- who will also visit Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- is expected to urge Washington's Arab allies to pressure Iran over its nuclear programme.
"We take your advice to not underestimate the Iranian threat. Iran should not underestimate our resolve for self defence," warned Israeli President Shimon Peres as he welcomed Bush.
The Strait of Hormuz is a vital conduit for energy supplies, with about 20-25 percent of the world's crude oil supplies passing through from Gulf oil producers.
It was Iran's Revolutionary Guards who in March last year seized 15 British sailors and marines in Gulf waters and held them at a secret location before releasing them in Tehran two weeks later.
A recent US intelligence report that said Iran halted a nuclear weapons programme in 2003 has momentarily taken the heat out of the atomic crisis. Washington still wants fresh UN Security Council action against Tehran.
However the incident in the Straits of Hormuz has underlined the tensions that remain between the two countries, which have had no diplomatic relations for almost three decades.
U.S. authorities are now qualifying statements that the voice came from any of the Iranian boats. According to Cdr. Lydia Robertson, the 5th Fleet spokeswoman in Bahrain it could have come from another ship in the area or even from shore. "We don't have a direct connection, but it's not necessarily a disconnect," she said.
Or maybe as the IRGC commander claims, it is just a fabrication using file footage with the addition of voices. Certainly the voice that states menacingly, "I am coming to you...you will explode after a few minutes", does seem too steady to be coming from a high-speed powerboat racing through choppy seas.
So the idea that it may be a fabrication is not entirely implausible. After all the U.S. has years of experience doing this with the bin Laden tapes. What's more the timing of the tapes release coincides perfectly with Bush's Middle East visit, just as the bin Laden tapes have previously been used to boost his sagging approval ratings. Judge for yourself below.
Watch the video here (be patient, it takes a few minutes to load).
The Iranian version of events also includes a video link.
Last updated 11/01/2008