Iran Continues Needling U.S. Over Navy Boat Seizure

Pentagon remains mute.

On January 12, at approximately 9:23 a.m., a pair American navy riverine command boats or RCBs, set sail south from Kuwait to Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet. At 2:10 p.m., the navy received a report that the RCBs had been intercepted by the Iranians. At 2:45 p.m., the military reported that all communication with the RCB flotilla was severed. At 6:15 p.m., the U.S. Navy cruiser USS Anzio received a communication from the Iranians that the sailors were being detained. Coincidentally, their detention coincided with Obama’s scheduled State of the Union Address, which predictably, made absolutely no mention of the event.

The Pentagon claimed that the RCBs strayed into Iranian territorial waters as a result of a “navigation error” and thereafter, one of the RCBs experienced engine trouble. They were then greeted by a pair of Iranian speed boats. Photos and video of the incident released by the Iranians show that the Iranian boats were armed with nothing more than forward mounted Russian 14.5mm DShK machine guns of Korean War vintage.

At gunpoint, the Iranians transferred the boats and their crew to Farsi Island where they maintain a military base. The boats and crew members were released some 16 hours later during which time, the Iranians thoroughly inspected the RCBs. Two satellite phone sim cards were stolen by the Iranians and the Pentagon has not divulged what, if any, information they contained. The groveling John Kerry thanked his Iranian counterpart profusely for releasing the illegally detained sailors.

Aside from these bare facts, the Pentagon has not released any new information concerning the embarrassing incident, a humiliation unparalleled in modern U. S. naval history. As I previously noted, several troubling questions still remain unanswered.

First, how did an experienced naval crew, equipped with sophisticated navigational equipment and traveling a well-charted, straight forward path, encounter a “navigational error” that led them into the territorial waters of an extremely hostile entity? In the absence of additional information, the Pentagon’s explanation makes absolutely no sense. 

There has been speculation that the Iranians employed a device that spoofed or tricked the RCB’s on-board GPS devices with fake signals, leading the sailors into believing that they were on a correct course when they had in fact, substantially deviated. If the Iranians had in fact employed such a device, it would not have been the first time. In 2011, they reportedly misdirected a U.S. drone operating in Afghanistan by hacking into its GPS. The drone and all of its technology fell into Iranian hands relatively intact. The Pentagon has not issued any comment on this theory and notably, has not issued any denial of this troublesome scenario.

Second, and even more troubling, is how did 10 American sailors surrender their heavily armed and armored RCBs to a vastly inferior Iranian force without firing a single shot? Why weren’t readily available military assets immediately deployed and dispatched after the military was notified of the hostile encounter? Who gave the commander the order to surrender and was the decision to surrender influenced by political considerations, notably Obama’s State of the Union Address?

While the Pentagon continues to remain mute on these and other crucial issues surrounding the seizure of the RCBs, the Iranians have been extremely talkative, missing no opportunity to humiliate the “Great Satan.”  The list of outrages includes the following;

  • The sailors were forced to kneel at gunpoint with their hands interlocked behind their heads. The display was videotaped.
  • The commander was forced to apologize and acknowledge his “navigational error” and the graciousness of his Iranian captors on Iranian TV.
  • The Iranians reenacted the surrender spectacle during one of their annual “Death to America” demonstrations.
  • The sailors were subjected to rather intense interrogation.
  • Iranian TV aired footage purporting to show an American sailor crying.
  • A female sailor endured further humiliation and was forced into Sharia compliance by being made to wear a head covering.
  • Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, publicly issued the Iranians responsible for capturing the RCB sailors with “medals of conquest.”
  • Approximately two weeks after the sailors were freed; Iran released footage of one its drones shadowing the U.S. aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman. The drone incident occurred on the very day the sailors were captured. A U.S. Navy spokesman called the flyover “abnormal and unprofessional.”
  • As noted, two satellite phone sim cards, likely containing classified information, were stolen by the Iranians.
  • In mid-March, naval commander Gen. Ali Razmjou of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards announced that Iran had retrieved thousands of pages of information from laptops, GPS devices and maps used by U.S. Navy sailors.

It is likely that we have not heard the last from the Iranians on this humiliating saga. In fact, Razmjou said that the IRG will publish a book about the incident. The Iranian bombast stands in marked contrast to the Pentagon’s demurred, almost docile stance. The reasons for the Pentagon’s silence are not hard to fathom. Something happened in the Arabian Gulf on January 12 that if revealed, would likely cause considerable embarrassment to the Obama administration.

In mid-February, Sen. John McCain threatened to subpoena the sailors if the Pentagon was not more forthcoming about the details surrounding the incident. He correctly noted that it did not take that long to debrief the sailors, accused the administration of “dragging [its] feet” and gave the administration a deadline of March 1 to present more information. That deadline has come and gone but the public still remains in the dark thanks to the Obama administration’s attempts to obfuscate.

In the meantime, Iran continues to test ballistic missiles in defiance of UNSC resolution 2231 and flush with $150 billion, continues to operate as a malignant regional influence by providing sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels and other assorted terrorist organizations. More ominously, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah have constructed a ballistic missile base in Syria near the Israeli border, greatly magnifying an already explosive situation.

Obama will ignore these and other Iranian transgressions because he recognizes that the JCPOA, his crowning foreign policy achievement, is on thin ice. For the very same reason, he will continue to order the Pentagon to obfuscate and remain silent on the circumstances surrounding the seizure of U.S. personnel in the Arabian Gulf because it will likely embarrass the administration and add to further congressional calls to toughen sanctions against the Islamic Republic.