America’s White Flag in the Arabian Gulf

Why did a superior U.S. naval force surrender to the IRGC without firing a shot?

On the day that Barack Obama was scheduled to issue his State of the Union address, 10 American naval personnel were snatched by the world’s premier state-sponsor of international terrorism. The Americans were subjected to utter humiliation. They were forced to kneel before their Shia captors with their fingers interlocked behind their heads and the Iranians made sure to video the shameful spectacle and feed the footage to their propaganda apparatus in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Weapons and equipment were seized, all without a shot fired. Later, a female crew member was subjected to additional degradation and was forced into Sharia compliance by being made to cover her, heaven forbid, exposed hair. The flotilla commander was forced to apologize for his “mistake” and was made to thank his captors for their “fantastic” behavior and “hospitality.” The grim faces of the sailors sitting adjacent to their commander, however, tell a different story.

So what led to this fiasco? Obtaining information from administration officials has proven to be more difficult than extracting an impacted wisdom tooth but from the bits and pieces provided, here’s what we do know. On January 12, two American Riverine Command Boats left their point of origin from Kuwait and traveled southward toward their destination in Bahrain where the US Navy maintains a large and active presence. While in transit, they were supposed to rendezvous with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy for refueling.

According to U.S. Central Command or CENTCOM, the two RCBs departed Kuwait at 9:23 a.m. At some point thereafter, one of the boats experienced a mechanical problem with its diesel engine and the crew began troubleshooting. The second boat maintained position close by. CENTCOM further noted that the boats deviated from their intended path and strayed into Iranian territorial waters, near Farsi Island where Iran maintains a military base. This deviation occurred despite the RCB’s sophisticated navigational equipment and the relatively straight-forward path the RCBs were directed to take. CENTCOM did not reveal how or when it became cognizant of the alleged territorial infringement nor did it reveal the reason for why the boats strayed.

At approximately 2:10 p.m. U.S Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) received a report, presumably communicated by the crewmembers, that they were being questioned by Iranians. By 2:45 p.m., NAVCENT lost all communication with the boats. The military said that at 6:15 p.m., a U.S. navy cruiser received word from the Iranians that the sailors were being held by them. Fifteen hours later, the crew and their equipment, minus two satellite phone SIM cards, were released.

It is safe to assume that the Iranians scoured both boats and copied and photographed whatever they could get their hands on. We do not as yet know what information was contained on the stolen SIM cards but the Iranians would not have gone through the trouble of stealing them if they didn’t think there was anything worth stealing.

There are many troubling aspects to this story and chief among them is why 10 highly skilled and motivated US sailors, equipped with overwhelming firepower, surrendered without a shot? To place things into proper perspective, the RCB is a highly advanced piece of machinery that is fast, heavily armored and bristling with an assortment of deadly weapons. It can reach speeds of up to 43 knots and its armor can withstand 7.62 millimeter rounds fired from an Ak-47 assault rifle.

But among its most impressive feature is its armament which includes M2HB .50-caliber heavy machine guns, M240 medium machine guns and GAU-19 .50-caliber miniguns. The latter weapon system can best be characterized as a modern-day Gatling gun on steroids. The RCB is also equipped with an Mk49 remote control weapons platform, equipped with a stabilized M2HB heavy machine gun. The system was developed by one of Israel’s leading defense contractors, Rafael. It has a 360 degree arc of fire, can be fired without exposing its operator to return-fire and thanks to its advanced stabilization system, can pour lead on target even in the choppiest waters. In addition to the RCB’s standard mounted weapons, the sailors were equipped with M4 assault rifles as evidenced by the video footage shot by the Iranians when they were taking inventory.

In sum, the RCB is a very capable and formidable offensive and defensive weapon system. Mate that to the most highly trained and motivated sailors in the world and you have what amounts to a killing machine and there were two of them!

When he was interrogated by the shrill-voiced Iranian, the U.S. commander stated, “The Iranian patrol boat came out when we were having engine issues and had weapons drawn so we tried to talk to them until more boats came out and took us in (emphasis added).” The RCBs were initially confronted by a single Iranian patrol boat. According to Iranian video footage, that “patrol boat” was nothing more than a flimsy speed boat with a forward mounted Russian machinegun, sort of like a Somali technical at sea and certainly no match for the RCB. In fact, the RCB could have decimated it.

It is unclear how many IRGC boats subsequently joined in but from the video footage, it does not appear to have been that many. Moreover, NAVCENT was aware of the flotilla’s predicament from the moment of first contact at 2:10 p.m. Thirty-five minutes elapsed before NAVCENT lost contact with the RCBs. The United States has significant assets in the Arabian Gulf and nothing in Iran’s military arsenal comes close to the firepower that the U.S. can bring to bear.

According to CENTCOM, at the time of the incident, two carrier strike groups were operating nearby. The USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group was 45 miles southeast of Farsi Island and Charles de Gaulle carrier strike group was 40 miles north of Farsi Island. Fighter jets from either carrier strike group could have been dispatched to the area within minutes. The United States also maintains additional air assets in theater including a UAE-based squadron of F-22 Raptor combat aircraft as well as F-18 Hornet and F-16 Falcon fighters deployed in Bahrain.

Several troubling issues still need to be addressed and remain as of yet, unanswered. Why did the RCBs refrain from defending themselves when they had the capability to do so? Whose decision was it to surrender and why? Why weren’t fighter aircraft dispatched to the area immediately upon word that the RCBs were being confronted by IRGC patrol craft?

I am not a conspiracy theorist and I could be wrong but I believe the decision to avoid confrontation and surrender stemmed from a decision rendered at the highest echelons of the Obama administration. It is not in the nature of the U.S. military to surrender. The opposite is in fact the case. U.S. military history is replete with examples of heroism where the few defeated or outfought the many; the Battle of Samar, Bastogne, the Chosin Reservoir campaign, Khe Sanh and the Battle of 73 Easting just to name a few. In this incident, U.S. forces were well equipped to handle anything the Iranians had to throw at them. But Obama did not wish to see his State of the Union address, where he would tout his precious Iran Deal, marred by yet another confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

While American sailors were being subjected to humiliation and used as propaganda tools by the Iranians, Obama issued his State of the Union address without noting the incident. Predictably, his allies in Congress and in the media cheered like mindless automatons.

Following the sailors’ release, John Kerry, the man who experts noted was the least effective secretary of state in a half-century and who once spoke of Bashar Assad in glowing terms, absurdly thanked the Iranians for their “cooperation ‎in swiftly resolving” the matter. It was a surreal moment. Iranian pirates kidnap American sailors, degrade them, violate the Geneva Conventions and our political leaders express gratitude to the savages. Meanwhile, America’s allies and enemies took note of Obama’s fecklessness in the face of Iranian aggression, further undermining American credibility.

The latest incident in the Arabian Gulf is but one in a series of Iranian transgressions all but ignored by the Obama administration. Since the signing of the JCPOA, Iran has violated UNSC resolutions on ballistic missile testing, has fired rockets in close proximity to U.S. naval vessels, and has extorted the U.S. into releasing convicted Iranian felons in exchange for civilian hostages it snatched in violation of all civilized standards of decency.

The lack of a credible American response to these repeated and blatant transgressions will only serve to embolden the Islamic Republic. Moreover, the $150 billion cash windfall the Iranians will receive as a result of the JCPOA will not be used to build roads and hospitals but will promptly be diverted to the coffers of the IRGC, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthi rebels and other nefarious elements wishing to harm the interests of the United States and those of its allies. Our Appeaser in Chief has made the world an infinitely more dangerous place, has made a mockery of our military and has brought shame upon America.