« Homage to New Hampshire | Main | The "Surge" and its results »

11 January 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Cold War Zoomie

From what I know, this happens on a regular basis every time US warships enter OR leave the Persian Gulf, its nothing new. Now its being hyped.

My head is going to explode.

Does anyone remember our "encounters" with The Rooskies during the Cold War?

Weren't we losing soldiers in the Korean DMZ off and on for 40 years?

But the Big Bad Evil Iranian Speedboats are coming after us!

I'm scairt!!

W. Patrick Lang


"and the contours of the US-Iran deal over Iraq."

Where did you get the idea that this is happening? pl

Jim Schmidt


"In fact, do these people understand that the universalism of the Western Civilization is the antithetical to all forms of ethno-religious particularity?"

In my view they should. They must. However, phophecy, like voodoo, holds no threat if you don't believe it. Revelations, stripped of revelance, is a Godsend to Olmert and his fellow nationalists.

Therefore, a simple explanation of recent events is a cynical manipulation of the dispensationalist mindset for temporal advantage by clever people. After all, Armeggedon is New Testament, the beast Rome, 666 the code for Nero (I may be on shakey ground here so feel free to correct me) so playing along for several billion and some nice new toys is an incredible bargain.

For the believers, Jewish Restoration is predicted in Zechariah 12:8-10 (KJV) , another New Testament book, so my guess is that George and his fellow space travelers believe all things will come out in the wash so why worry if somebody isn't buying the joke now.

The difficult thing for me to understand is why the end of history and the certainty of unprecented suffering and genocide is so damn attractive. I have friends I debate this with and they get positively giddy over the prospect of the rapture, brimstone, gnashing and other delightful events. I guess they envision it as a spectator sport.

My concern is how deep George's convictions run and whether he considers himself an emmissary for the new millenium.

"Bush's Armageddon Obsession
The Looking Glass War"


As I tell my fundy friends, at the moment of death, one of us is in for a hell of a surprise. My hope is that that moment arrives as natural inevitabiity, not zealot forced prophesy.


Arnaud deBorchgrave intimates that perhaps only an American Jewish President can bring Peace to the Israeli- Palestinians, to wit: a certain mega billionaire Mayor of NYC, no not that war mongering imbecile Guiliani but le Bloomberg.

see his latest column

David Habakkuk

Jim Schmidt wrote, in response to Babak Makkinejad's question about whether Jews understand that the 'universalism of the Western Civilization' is a threat to them:

'In my view they should. They must. However, prophecy, like voodoo, holds no threat if you don't believe it. Revelations, stripped of revelance, is a Godsend to Olmert and his fellow nationalists.

'Therefore, a simple explanation of recent events is a cynical manipulation of the dispensationalist mindset for temporal advantage by clever people.'

But if they should believe that the universalism is a threat, the strategy of 'Olmert and his fellow nationalists' -- together with their American fellow-travellers -- may not be clever at all. The potential dangers for American Jews were addressed not long ago by Norman Birnbaum, in his Nation article 'Is Israel Good for the Jews':

'Domestically, the chief allies of American Jewry were once the liberal Protestants; the modern Catholics, whose great achievement was the Second Vatican Council; and progressive secularists. Now organized Jewry has an alliance with those who were not so long ago embittered anti-Semites. The Protestant fundamentalists think the founding of the Jewish state means that the conversion of the Jews is imminent. Suppose the fundamentalists demand that US Jewry anticipate the end of time by beginning their conversion now? Some have welcomed the Lebanon crisis as the initiation of Armageddon. In the meantime, they combat the pluralism of the public sphere, which is indispensable to enduring rights for Jews in the United States. America is in serious danger of becoming a nation defined not by citizenship but by bargains among struggling ethnic and religious communities, united in an impossible project of global domination. Will Nobel prizes and business acumen, and seventeenth-century biblical imagery of America as a New Israel, protect the Jewish minority as our imperial project disintegrates? Its end could generate the domestic deprivation and tension conducive to renewed anti-Semitism.'

(See http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060814/is_israel_good_for_the_jews.)

For Jews in Israel, pursuing maximalist aims with the aid of unreliable Christian Zionist allies, while alienating traditional philo-semitic groups, is a gamble. It may pay off, but I would not count on it.

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

The NIE comes out of the Blue, Putin flies to Tehran, Ahmadinejad is in Saudi Arabia, Larijani is in Egypt, Chinese ink a deal with Iran, violence in Iraq goes down, US troop withdrawal is openly discussed.

This is my impression, ultimately.

Babak Makkinejad

David Habakkuk:

What always struck me about the End-of-Time Christians was the implicit sentiment behind their project – “I cannot carry the burden of this life; living, working, suffering and dying. So please, God, destroy the world so I do not have to go through all this unpleasantness.” It reminded me of the verses of the Quran: "Surely We offered Our trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it. But he has proved a tyrant and a fool." (33:72)

You are quite right in the impossibility of creating an enduring unitary state on basis of "the bargains among struggling ethnic and religious communities"; one needs only to consider Lebanon, Nigeria, South Africa, Yugoslavia, and USSR.


A quick follow-up on David Habakkuk's comments about the transition from an ecumenical coalition supporting Israel, to the present-day Darbyite fundamentalist protestants who not-so recently had been anti-semites...

I had an occasion last week to spend some quality time in conversation with a former minister in the Southern Baptist Conference, a brilliant scholar who had been on the front lines of the schism in that faith back during the Carter-Reagan years, when the SBC was taken over by its current crop of dispensationalists.

He kept referring to those who took over the SBC as "neocons", and when I asked him why he was using that particular term, he said that's what they had called themselves, and he seemed blissfully unaware of any more current incarnation of that word.

And the way he described their motivations and actions, it sounded more like he was talking about followers of Trotsky than about followers of the Lamb of God and the Prince of Peace, i.e., they were trying to purify the world at the point of an imperial sword.

I'm not entirely sure what it means, but I sure did find it interesting...

Cold War Zoomie

The difficult thing for me to understand is why the end of history and the certainty of unprecented suffering and genocide is so damn attractive. I have friends I debate this with and they get positively giddy over the prospect of the rapture, brimstone, gnashing and other delightful events. I guess they envision it as a spectator sport.

I graduated high school from a Calvinist Evangelical boarding school. Quite frankly, some of these folks scared me. Many of these people were having serious trouble functioning in the temporal world before finding Jesus and walking down the aisle, including the faculty. The scary ones were pretty screwed up mentally. So their conversions were based entirely on emotion. Not a Thomas Aquinas among them.

Their emotional love affair with Jesus coupled with a Winner Take All American spirit did make it a sport. They were *winners* above all else. I cannot say for certain what was in their hearts, but many times I felt that they were quite happy knowing that they were chosen to spend eternity in Heaven and the rest of the world was getting what it so rightly deserved - punishment!

It was a strange mixture of revenge, sport, anger, bliss, and infant dependancy.

Many of my fellow students fell apart within a few years after leaving the sanctuary of a boarding school atmosphere.

All those old demons returned.

W. Patrick Lang


the NIIE did not come out of theblue. It was the product of a long struggle by intelligence officials to express the truth. pl


Two things the current president should have kept in his mind (such as it is...):
- The USS Liberty
- Jonathan Pollard

Clifford Kiracofe

Chris Hedges take:

"The Gilbert and Sullivan charade of statesmanship played out by George W. Bush and his enabler, Condoleezza Rice, as they wander the Middle East is a fitting end to seven years of misrule. Despots stripped of power are transformed from monsters into buffoons. And this is the metamorphosis that is eating away at the Bush presidency. ....
It is the end of the road for George Bush. The world takes less and less notice of him. He strutted and swaggered across the stage. He bellowed and raged. He plundered and murdered. And now he wants to be anointed as a peacemaker. His presidency, like his life, has been a tragic waste. But he at least he has a life. There are tens of thousands of mute graves in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan that stand as stark testaments to his true legacy. If he wants to redeem his time in office he should kneel before one and ask for forgiveness."

Patrick Seale's take:
" George W. Bush’s recent Middle East tour was a unique opportunity -- very probably his last -- to restore his country’s prestige and his own reputation by making a decisive contribution to regional peace and security.
But Bush threw it away with the stubborn wrong-headedness which has been the hallmark of his two terms in office....."

In the UAE/Dubai, Tinkerbelle's handlers no doubt made sure W did not see the dhows in the Iran trade stretching as far as one can see in the port area.


Maybe the Europeans and Russians who kicked the Palestinians off their land don't have a "divine right' to the land based on an old book of superstitious myths. Just a thought.

Clifford Kiracofe

1."Senior Pentagon officials, evidently reflecting a broader administration policy decision, used an off-the-record Pentagon briefing to turn the Jan. 6 U.S.-Iranian incident in the Strait of Hormuz into a sensational story demonstrating Iran's military aggressiveness, a reconstruction of the events following the incident shows.

The initial press stories on the incident, all of which can be traced to a briefing by deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs in charge of media operations Bryan Whitman, contained similar information that has since been repudiated by the Navy itself. "

Anyone have some biographic data on this Whitman? Another Neocon???

2. Appears the incompetence of US stenographers-journalists is reflected in this story. Logically, reporting about the LEGAL regime governing transit of the Strait of Hormuz should be significant as "context."

For example, this news analyst did some homework:
"The recent, and escalating, tension between Iran and the US in the narrow corridor of the Strait of Hormuz has once again drawn attention to the strait's international maritime status, and to the ramifications of this tension as a flashpoint in the Middle East.....
Yet there is no "international water" in the Strait of Hormuz, straddled between the territorial waters of Iran and Oman. The US government claimed, through a Pentagon spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the three US ships "transiting through the Strait of Hormuz" were provocatively harassed by the speedboats. This was followed by the Pentagon's release of a videotape of the encounter, where in response to Iran's request for ship identification, we hear a dispatch from one of the US ships stating the ship's number and adding that "we are in international waters and we intend no harm".

Thus there is the issue of the exact whereabouts of the US ships at the time of the standoff with the Iranian boats manned by the IRGC patrolling the area. According to Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgiff, the US ships were "five kilometers outside Iranian territorial waters." Yet, this is disputed by another dispatch from the US ships that states, "I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law."

Given that the approximately three-kilometer-wide inbound traffic lane in the Strait of Hormuz is within Iran's territorial water, the US Navy's invocation of "transit passage" harking back to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, (UNCLOS) is hardly surprising. [1]

Although the US has yet to ratify the UNCLOS, it has been a strong advocate of its provisions regarding navigational rights, thus explaining the US officers' availing themselves of "international law." [2]

It is noteworthy that in May 2006, Bush urged the US Congress to "act favorably on US accession to the convention." But, in light of the legal ramifications of the US-Iran standoff in the Persian Gulf, discussed below, opponents of the UNCLOS may have become emboldened. According to them, the convention "prohibits two functions vital to American security: collecting intelligence and submerged transit of territorial waters."....



I received a report on Jan. 15, from an Israeli source with close ties to Olmert inner circles. I pass it along, with interest in any thoughts or feedback.

Following the Bush visit to Israel, the Israeli security cabinet met and approved, in principle, major military strikes into Gaza to uproot Hamas. A number of factors will determine whether or not this actually happens. First, the Winograd Commission, investigating the July 2006 Lebanon war, issues its final report and recommendations on Jan. 30. The Commission has already said it will not call for Olmert's resignation, but a harsh finding, pointing to his failures, above all others, could precipitate a government crisis. If Avigdor Lieberman pulls out of the government, and one other party, like Shas, also leaves, then this will force early elections.

Barak would prefer that the Olmert government remains in power through November. He is pushing the Gaza incursions, and more. The plan would be for Israeli forces to move in to Gaza in force, but also be alert for action from Hezbollah. In that case, the IDF has prepared for a new Lebanon war, this time extending into Syria. Barak needs a big military success, to take back the PM post. Bibi, for his own reasons, would prefer to see the Olmert government fall in the immediate wake of the Winograd findings, because right now, he is polling well ahead of every other candidate to be the next PM. Then he could have the war option on his watch.

The Gaza plan also considers the possibility of Iran taking some kind of action in support of Hamas, which would serve as a possible Plan C trigger for combined Israeli-American military actions against Iran, actions that have been otherwise stalled due to strong Pentagon and CIA opposition. This was reflected in the NIE, and more recent efforts by Mullen and Fallon to get some kind of rules of engagement agreement with Iran, to assure that no new incidents in the Straits of Hormuz lead to a direct confrontation "by accident."

While Bush was promoting "final two state solution" in his talks in Israel and Palestine, it may be the case that the one-year timetable involves these planned Israeli strikes against Gaza. So in Bush's jaded logic, shared by some in Israel, the path to peace is along the road of war. At least it is more consistent than pushing peace between Israel and Palestine and a war alliance of Israel and the Sunni Arabs against Iran. It's all war.

I must add, in fairness, that apart from this Israeli source, some of my Washington intelligence contacts are putting a much more positive light on the Bush trip, including his talks with Olmert and Abbas. I remain skeptical.



The article you link to in your last comment contains many errors and shows a complete anti-American bias.

First of all, Iranian and Omani TTW only extend 12nm from land, so much of the strait is, in fact, technically international waters. Additionally, the author leaves out the fact that many of Iran's TTW claims are illegal and include the use of straight baselines and claiming waters between islands as internal. The US Navy actively challenged these illegal claims when I was in the Navy back in the 1990's.

Secondly, for safety of navigation reasons, there exists a traffic separation scheme (TSS) to manage the high flow of inbound and outbound traffic. Part of this passes wholly through Omani waters and part passes wholly through Iranian waters and part passes through international waters. The US Navy is very cognizant of these boundaries which is reflected in their responses to queries from Iran, Oman and others. That two different responses were given indicates the ships were, in fact, transiting across the various boundaries according the the TSS. The responses haven't changed since I was in the Gulf in the early 1990's, nor has the method of passage. In fact, it was more aggressive back then since we were actively challenging illegal TTW claims.

Additionally, US ships have the inherent right to self-defense. Exercising the right of innocent passage inside Iranian TTW in accordance with the TSS does not give Iran carte blanche to do as it wishes and the US Navy retains the right to defend itself if it responds to hostile intent or a hostile act. I'm not sure what the author is complaining about since the US Navy did not ultimately do anything beyond blowing whistles and communicating on the radio. The ships appear to have maintained their transit and did not tactically maneuver.

The article further complains about use of a helicopter but no evidence is given that the helicopter operated in Iranian TTW. Additionally, there's no evidence active sonar was used, nor is Iran's previous attempts at illegally regulating passage during the tanker wars cited.

In short, there's nothing to indicate the passage of these three ships was at all illegal nor fundamentally different from hundreds of similar passages conducted over the last decadea-and-a-half. This article nitpicks every possible legal argument against the US, germane or not, yet says nothing about Iran's very real illegal claims and violations.

Babak Makkinejad


You stated: "...Iran's very real illegal claims and violations..."

Under what jurisdiction and accroding to which legal framework?

Jim Schmidt

"While Bush was promoting "final two state solution" in his talks in Israel and Palestine, it may be the case that the one-year timetable involves these planned Israeli strikes against Gaza. So in Bush's jaded logic, shared by some in Israel, the path to peace is along the road of war. At least it is more consistent than pushing peace between Israel and Palestine and a war alliance of Israel and the Sunni Arabs against Iran. It's all war." ... Harper

Other recent items in the news to consider

"Bush: Iran threatens world security"


"Iran receives Russian nuclear fuel"

Iran receives a third shipment of nuclear fuel from Russia
Country received first two shipments on December 17 and December 28
Five more shipments will be made to the Bushehr reactor in coming months
Iran says the nuclear reactor will begin operating in the summer of 2008 ....


"Israeli PM: 'All options' legitimate to prevent nuclear Iran"


"Missile test 'will improve deterrence"
By Haaretz Correspondent and Agencies , By Yuval Azoulay

"Israel tested a dual-stage missile yesterday that defense officials say will improve the country's power of deterrence. Channel 10 television said Israel was working on a missile with a range of 4,000 kilometers.

The country's main ballistic missile threat is from Iran, which has advanced missiles as well as a nuclear program that many in the West believe could produce weapons in the future.

"Everybody can do the math and understand that the significance is that we can reach with a rocket engine to every point in the world," weapons expert Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired army general and Tel Aviv University professor who is now a member of the Knesset, told Channel 2 TV. ……


Jericho III

Jericho III is thought to have been in service since mid-2005. With a payload of 1,000 - 1,300 kg it has a range of 6,500-7000km[1][2], and probably significantly greater with a payload of 350kg (one Israeli nuclear warhead). This gives Israel, at least, nuclear strike capability against Africa, Europe, and most of Asia.

Linking all of these items above to Bush's comment that he disagrees with the N.I.E. report, Andy's reports regarding the Straits and the stepped up activity in Gaza, makes one wonder whether the next boneheaded move in the ME is now unfolding.

Clifford Kiracofe

Andy, I am not concerned about so-called "anti American bias." The analysis of the situation is my interest; data is my interest; open source collection is my interest; the present maritime legal regime out there is my interest.

In my post I raised the issue of the maritime legal regime in the area. Dr. Afrasiabi's article is the only one I have seen so far that got into this point.

A standard older work on the Persian Gulf that deals with maritime issues is of course, Rouhollah K. Ramazani, "The Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz" (1979).

SST readers can toggle on the abovementioned website to pages 78 and thereabouts for an analysis (circa 1979) of the legal regime and maritime issues. Perhaps qualified (maritime) lawyers reading SST could provide us more up to date perspectives and analysis of the current situation and claims.

As it happens, as a grad student at UVA, I was Professor Ramazani's research assistant for a year and a half in the mid 1970s and worked on issues relating to Iran and the Gulf.

The Bush Administration's reckless policy in the region has complicated legal issues and their resolution. It is certainly time for Washington to engage in serious regional diplomacy including dialogue with Iran. Maritime legal issues, as this incident reminds, are important. We need to conclude an incidents at sea agreement with Iran as the US naval command, among others, has indicated in recent years.



Iran's baseline, TTW, and internal waters claims are contrary to UNCLOS which Iran has signed, but not ratified, but also to the 1958 convention. They also have a domestic law requiring prior notification for warships to engage in transit passage which has no basis in any international law. FWIW the US has never provided such notification and Iran has not attempted to enforce the provision against the US (I'm not sure if the same is true with other navies) Their use of naval mines during the tanker wars and discriminatory policy against commercial shipping at that time is contrary to a host of laws and agreements including the 1958 convention and the 1907 Hague VIII.


Analysis and data is my interest as well - unfortunately the article by Mr. Afrasiabi obscures more than it enlightens. You prefaced the article as "a news analyst who did some homework" in which case I'd have to give him an "f" for a completely one-sided and error-filled "analysis." In addition to the arguments I gave above, it also ignores immunity status warships receive while conducting innocent passage, so the supposed legal claims the author believes Iran possesses are unfounded.

Furthermore, I would agree the Bush administration's policies in the gulf have been reckless, but I don't see what that has to do with this incident beyond the administration's hyping and spin of it (which reminds me, incidentally, of the China - EP-3 incident where Bush's rhetoric made the situation unnecessarily tense and problematic). With the exception of a more serious than average confrontation between the IRGCN and the US, the transit of these three US warships was unremarkable.



I would add that as a non-lawyer familiar with with maritime law, I don't see anything that either side did as inherently illegal and, in fact, neither side is claiming such. Were there any real basis for illegal activities on either side in this incident, ISTM one side or the other would at least have mentioned it amidst all the escalating rhetoric.



Sorry for the third reply - I seem to hit the "post" button before my thoughts are complete.

I agree we need diplomacy with Iran and I would like to unilaterally reestablish an embassy there. I also concur that an incidents at sea agreement would be useful as well as some kind of direct communication line setup between 5th fleet and both the IRIN and IRGCN.

Babak Makkinejad


Thank you for your comments.

I will respond here to those comments that relate to the maritime subject matter. I will not respond to your statements regarding presumed cases of supposed illegal Iranian activities in the past since this is truly a case of the Pot calling the Kettle "black".

You wrote: "Iran's baseline, TTW, and internal waters claims are contrary to UNCLOS which Iran has signed, but not ratified, but also to the 1958 convention."

Since Iran has not ratified the TTW, she is not legally bound by its terms. [US has signed but not ratified CTBT.] Thus her actions cannot be characterized as illegal.

In regards to the 1958 Convention On The High Seas, High Seas is defined as "all parts of the sea that are not included in he territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State." It could be argued that the Straits of Hormuz are not "high seas" and thus not subject to that convention.

So, I think that the most you could have stated was something to the effect that the Iranian claims could be construed as illegal under this or that convention. To establish that, US, EU, or some other state needed to have opened a case at the Hague and argued it in front of the International Court of Justice. No state to my knowledge has done so.

The closest applicable analogue that I could find was the "Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Turkish Straits" . But no such convention exists between Iran, Oman, and other states. Such a maritime convention might be possible but not under the present circumstances.

Clifford Kiracofe


Two citations I can locate at the moment without walking over to the law library across town:

Amin, S. H., "The Regime of International Straits: Legal Implications for the Strait of Hormuz," 12 Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce 387-405 (1980-1981) and,

Ramazani, Rouhollah K., The Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, (Sijtoff and Noordhoff, 1979). International Straits of the World Vol. 3.

These are dated and I recall one of the Iranian naval officials (or RevGd?) interviewed referred after the incident to a 1982 legal LOS consideration.

Tony Cordesman's "Iran, Oil, and the strait of Hormuz" CSIS March 2007 provides some context. http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/070326_iranoil_hormuz.pdf

I do hope we can move forward on the diplomatic front to achieve such agreements of mutual benefit as can be had under difficult circumstances.



You're right to call me out on the use of "illegal" and I admit I used the term too freely, particularly since legality in international relations is often subjective. Still, Iran's TTW claims are still not in keeping with the 1958 convention nor UNCLOS, but that is really a minor and ancillary point to the matter at hand with this incident and Dr. Afrasiabi's article.

To clarify some points, howerver, I'd like to note that although Iran has not ratified UNCLOS, it has formally codified it into it's own domestic law after signing, but carved out exceptions, some of which I've noted above (for a 1994 DoS legal analysis of the law and its divergence from UNCLOS, see this pdf file). I would further note that precedent is important in these matters, which is why the US Navy under Clinton took such pains to challenge Iranian claims. Additionally, Iran actually has maritime boundary agreements with other Gulf states, but over the continental shelf boundary and not TTW. These agreed boundaries are sometimes mistaken for TTW boundaries, which may form the basis of some errors in Dr. Afrasiabi's article.

In any event, it was the article and its many gross errors that I really intended to focus on. It's also vexing to note the article is being reprinted all over the web as some kind of authoritative analysis of the legalities of the incident, particularly on left-leaning sites - presumably as more evidence to bash Bush. Googling "Iran unclos" lists the article as the first search result and several reprints are included in the top ten. My view is that the Bush administration should be condemned for hyping and blowing this incident out of proportion. One can do that, ISTM, without grossly mischaracterizing the actions (or lack thereof) of the US Navy in this incident, as the article implies.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

September 2020

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      
Blog powered by Typepad