TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran on Thursday aired its own video of an incident in the Strait of Hormuz with US warships, in a bid to counter Pentagon accusations that the Iranians warned they could blow up the American vessels.
The video broadcast by Iran’s English-language channel Press-TV showed an Iranian commander in a speedboat contacting an American sailor via radio, asking him to identify the US vessels and state their purpose.
“Coalition warship number 73, this is an Iranian patrol,” the Iranian commander is heard to say in English, asking for the vessel to confirm its number.
“This is coalition warship number 73. I am operating in international waters,” replied the American voice.
State-run Press-TV said the footage had been released by the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological force involved in the incident.
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 alleged confrontation has further inflamed tensions between Iran and the United States which are locked in a standoff over Tehran’s controversial nuclear drive.
The tape showed “warship number 73” — the USS Port Royal — looming in the foreground and also showed the two other US vessels in the incident, the USS Hopper and the USS Ingraham.
A helicopter was also shown hovering above the US ships in the Iranian footage, shot with a hand held-camera inside the speedboat.
“Request your present course and speed!” added the Iranian commander, who was wearing a yellow lifejacket and the kefiyeh scarf often sported by Iranian revolutionary forces.
The dialogue in the video was repetitive and sometimes technical, with the sides agreeing to switch from channel 16 to channel 11 on their radios.
However Iran clearly sees the release of the footage as buttressing its claims that the incident was purely a routine matter of identification that ended without any disturbance.
“Iran clearly just wanted to identify the vessels and find out what they were doing,” concluded the Press-TV anchor.
The Revolutionary Guards had said the day earlier that the film released by the Pentagon was a “clumsy fake” where the sound and image were not properly synchronized.
The US video, which the Pentagon said was taken from the bridge of the USS Hopper, showed Iranian boats approaching the warships at high speeds and racing around its hull.
“I am coming to you… You will explode in a few minutes,” a man’s voice is heard to say on the video.
The incident came just ahead of US President George W. Bush’s arrival Wednesday in Israel, his first visit to Iran’s arch regional foe as president, on a major Middle East trip that will also see him visit several Arab allies.
Bush issued a thinly veiled warning that the United States, which has never ruled out a military strike against the Islamic republic, could strike back against Iran if American ships were attacked.
“All options are on the table to protect our assets,” Bush said in Jerusalem.
“We have made it clear publicly and they know our position and that is that there will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple. My advice to them is don’t do it.”
Iran accused the United States of using the incident in the strategic waterway — a vital conduit for energy supplies — as a propaganda stunt to paint the Islamic republic in a bad light during the trip.
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. But Washington still wants fresh UN Security Council action against Tehran.
“Iran was a threat, Iran is a threat and Iran will be threat to world peace if the international community does not come together and prevent that nation from the development of the know-how to build a nuclear weapon,” said Bush.
The Iranian video is available by the Washington Post.