Another Iranian Act of Aggression

Since Bush’s own National Intelligence Estimate admitted that the Iranians had apparently called a halt back in 2003 to whatever it was our intelligence community had supposed might be a "nuclear weapons program," the Russians decided it was safe to deliver the Iranians the first load of low-enriched uranium fuel for the nuclear power plant the Russians have been in the process of building – despite threats by President Clinton and President Bush – at Bushehr.

The Russians also announced they would provide Iran "a powerful new air defense system" to protect Bushehr and up to five more nuclear power plants they intend to build in Iran.

Well, the neocrazy editorialists at the New York Times promptly had a cow.

"While the risk that Tehran might divert the low-enriched uranium for weapons use is relatively small, the political significance of the shipment is not. It is the latest reminder that the Bush administration’s Iran policy is not working and that Washington and the other major powers are going to have to be a lot more creative and a lot more tough-minded if there is any hope of restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions."

Be creative?

Well, how about this?

Why not have the USS Port Royal [CG-73], escorted by the USS Hopper [DDG-70] and the USS Ingraham [FFG-61] steam in and out, through the Straits of Hormuz, which is only 50 Km [31 miles] wide at its narrowest point. Since Iran’s recognized territorial sea extends outward for 12 miles, that means that the recognized international waterway at that point is only six miles wide.

Why choose the USS Port Royal?

Well, it’s the same class – an Aegis Cruiser – as the USS Vincennes [CG-49].

You remember the Vincennes, don’t you?

On April 14, 1988, at the height of the Iran-Iraq War, the USS Roberts [FFG-58] struck a mine, while escorting re-flagged Kuwaiti oil-tankers in the Persian Gulf. We claimed – on the basis of serial numbers of some other mines found in the area – that it was an Iranian, not an Iraqi, mine.

So, we launched against Iran in the Persian Gulf the largest naval action involving US surface ships – including the USS Enterprise [CVN-65], USS Wainwright [CG-28], USS Strauss [DDG-16], USS Simpson [FFG-56], et al – since WWII.

The Iranians lost one of their largest most modern warships – the Sahand, a British-made Alvand-class 1100-ton frigate – when she was hit by two Harpoon missiles, a Skipper-II laser-guided bomb and Rockeye cluster-bombs. The Iranians also lost a torpedo boat.

The Aegis-Cruiser USS Vincennes [CG-49] entered the Persian Gulf a month later – after the fighting died down – to "protect" recovery operations of the mine-damaged USS Roberts.

On July 3, 1988, while allegedly being harassed by Iranian torpedo boats, the Vincennes launched several Aegis surface-to-air missiles which destroyed – to whoops of joy on the Vincennes bridge – an Iranian regularly scheduled commercial airliner, Iran Air Flight IR655, killing all 275 passengers [most of them Islamic pilgrims and many of them children] and 15 crew.

According to Pentagon spokespersons, the Iranian Airbus A300 was mistakenly identified by our Aegis cruiser to be one of the F-14 TomCat fighters we had sold the Shah of Iran.

So, fast forward to the entry this week of another of our Aegis cruisers – USS Port Royal [CG-73] – into the Persian Gulf.

"The Port Royal is ready to conduct prompt, sustained combat operations at sea in support of carrier battle groups, surface action groups, amphibious assault groups and as an integral part of interdiction forces. Port Royal can operate in any threat environment.

"Port Royal can defeat hostile surface ships, submarines, and air forces simultaneously, while delivering long range offensive land attacks.

"Port Royal’s diverse combat capability is orchestrated by the AEGIS Weapons System, the only fully integrated electronic detection, engagement and fire control system in the world today.

"AEGIS enables Port Royal to detect, evaluate and engage an enemy with the greatest firepower and accuracy of any combat system.

"Port Royal’s weapons include Standard surface-to-air missiles, Harpoon antiship missiles, TOMAHAWK cruise missiles, antisubmarine rockets, torpedoes, Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems for self defense against enemy aircraft and missiles, and five-inch, rapid fire deck guns.

"These weapons are supplemented by electronic warfare countermeasures, decoys and passive detection systems.

"Port Royal’s antisubmarine warfare suite is equally unmatched. Port Royal’s trio of underwater surveillance equipment consists of a hull-mounted sonar, an acoustic array sonar towed behind the ship, and the SH-60B LAMPS MK III Helicopter.

"Together these systems give the Port Royal the capability to detect and prosecute submarines over 100 miles away, making it a true multi-warfare mission capable combatant.

"Four powerful gas turbine engines propel Port Royal to speeds greater than 30 knots with ease and quickness. Two controllable reversible pitch propellers assist in it’s rapid acceleration and uncanny maneuverability."

Of course, with tensions being high – what with the Russian nuclear-reactor fuel delivery, and President Bush visiting Israel, and continuing to allege that the Iranians were still a threat to Israel, and could at any time restart what Bush claimed had looked suspiciously to him like a nuclear weapons program – it was foolish of the Iranians to continue their practice of sending out small boats into the Strait of Hormuz to document the comings and goings of U.S. warships.

And, of course, these boats (propelled by out-board motors, with crews of three, all wearing life jackets) obviously weren’t carrying torpedoes or anti-ship missiles.

But maybe they were suicide bombers, with a boat-load of high-explosives, intent upon ramming and sinking the USS Port Royal, as they very nearly did the USS Cole [DDG-67], in 2000, while in port in Yemen.

"Load hoppers, load hoppers"!

"Standby to commence firing, standby to commerce firing"!

But wait a minute. If they’re suicide bombers, why are they wearing life jackets?

In any case, the Iranian out-board motor boats turned away before they got within 200 meters of any of the US warships.

Maybe the 5 Iranian out-board motor boats, apparently unarmed, manned by men wearing life jackets weren’t such a threat after all.

This concession came hours after a formal complaint was lodged with Iran over the incident and just 24 hours after Bush warned Iran against such acts of aggression and said any repetition would lead to "serious consequences."

More serious than the downing of IranAir Flight IR 655?

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.