Small Wars Journal

Iran Releases US Sailors

Iran Releases US Sailors

Carla Babb, Voice of AmericaThe United States confirmed that Iran released 10 U.S. Navy sailors Wednesday, a day after they were detained when they drifted into Iranian territorial waters.

A Pentagon statement said there was no indication the nine men and one woman were harmed while in Iranian custody.

The sailors were on two small boats in the Persian Gulf between Kuwait and Bahrain when U.S. controllers lost contact with them on Tuesday. U.S. officials said they were picked up near Farsi Island, and the Pentagon said Wednesday they left the island in the same two boats before being taken ashore by Navy aircraft.

The Navy is investigating the incident.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter welcomed the sailors' release.

"I am pleased that ten U.S. Navy sailors have departed Iran and are now back in U.S. hands." Carter said in a statement. "I want to personally thank Secretary of State John Kerry for his diplomatic engagement with Iran to secure our sailors' swift return. Around the world, the U.S. Navy routinely provides assistance to foreign sailors in distress, and we appreciate the timely way in which this situation was resolved."

Secretary of State John Kerry praised Iran for quickly resolving the matter.

"I want to express my gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter," Kerry said. "That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted that he was happy to see "dialogue and respect not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the sailors episode. Let’s learn from this latest example."

Iran's Revolutionary Guard said earlier the group had been released after the U.S. apologized for the intrusion into its territory and gave assurances it would not happen again.

State television quoted General Ali Fadavi, the Navy chief of the Revolutionary Guard, saying a mechanical problem in the sailors' navigation system caused them to enter Iranian waters.

"There may have been mechanical failure on one of the vessels, but it is unclear at this time," a defense official told VOA. "My assumption is that they were in Iranian territorial waters when they were detained."

Nuclear Agreement

U.S. President Barack Obama did not mention the situation in his annual State of the Union speech Tuesday, but he did mention a nuclear agreement reached last year between Tehran and Western powers, saying "the world has avoided another war."

The agreement is expected to be implemented in the coming days, following Iran's steps taken to curb its nuclear activities. Western governments have agreed in return to lift long-standing economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Farsi Island is home to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps naval base, which may be why the sailors were quickly detained, Matthew Kroenig, a senior fellow in The Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, told VOA Tuesday.

“Most countries would do the same thing if foreign sailors came that close to a naval base,” Kroenig explained.

The news comes less than a month after U.S. officials accused Iran of launching a "highly provocative" rocket test near U.S. boats passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

Comments

Outlaw 09

Wed, 01/13/2016 - 4:23pm

This President in his drive to "save his legacy" appears to truly not understand Iranian non linear warfare and INFO warfare YET he has a messaging strategy for IS as his newest plans.....

Iran released a video showing a US Navy sailor apologizing — and scored a massive propaganda victory in the process http://www.businessinsider.com/iran-video-us-sailor-apology-2016-1

Outlaw 09

Wed, 01/13/2016 - 4:10pm

In reply to by nrogeiro

Really worth reading especially in light of the Iranian deep fighting inside Syria with Hezbollah, their own IRGC, 30 Iraqi Shia militias and Shia mercenaries from 12 different countries ie AFG and Cambodia etc....

"Obama thinks there’s a deal with Tehran, but...it’s a deal to someday maybe have an actual deal": US intel official http://observer.com/2016/01/obamas-persian-debacle-saber-rattling-in-th…

Obama’s Persian Debacle: Saber Rattling in the Gulf

Dusting off the nuclear 'Sunni bomb' amid Iran's navy maneuvers

By John R. Schindler • 01/13/16 1:20pm

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill January 12, 2016 in Washington, D.C. In his final State of the Union, President Obama reflected on the past seven years in office and spoke on topics including climate change, gun control, immigration and income inequality. (Photo by Evan Vucci - Pool/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill January 12, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Evan Vucci – Pool/Getty Images)

Yesterday, only hours before President Barack Obama was to deliver his final State of the Union address to the nation, over in the Persian Gulf, Iran seized two small boats belonging to the U.S. Navy. Ten of our sailors spent the night in Iranian custody. They have been released already, as Tehran promised, but the sting of international humiliation will take longer to dissipate.

The timing of Iran’s seizure is difficult to miss. Not only did this cast a distinct pall over Mr. Obama’s address – particularly since the president, who never tires of touting his nuclear deal with the revolutionary regime in Iran, failed to mention the ten American sailors in Iranian hands last night – but it happened only days before onerous international sanctions are set to be lifted off the mullahs in Tehran.

That, of course, is the prize Iran needs to rebuild its damaged economy, which has suffered badly at the hands of UN sanctions placed on the country for its longstanding rogue conduct, particularly regarding its nuclear program. While the Obama administration has insisted that Tehran is keeping its side of the nuclear deal, there are many doubters, especially in Western intelligence circles.

‘Obama thinks there’s a deal with Tehran,’ explained a senior U.S. intelligence official to me recently, ‘but it’s more accurate to say we have a deal to someday maybe have an actual deal.’

Skeptics have been bolstered by repeated Iranian actions since the deal was signed in Geneva last summer following years of negotiations, egged on by repeated secret pleadings by Mr. Obama to the mullahs. However, recent ballistic missile tests by the regime are believed by many inside the Beltway to be a violation of our agreement, while some in the know assess that there really is no deal at all.

“Obama thinks there’s a deal with Tehran,” explained a senior U.S. intelligence official to me recently, “but it’s more accurate to say we have a deal to someday maybe have an actual deal.” Few American intelligence officers who are acquainted with Iranian deception programs regarding their nuclear program are optimistic about the deal having the stated effect of seriously deterring Iran’s atomic ambitions for very long.

Moreover, if Mr. Obama expected lifting sanctions on Tehran would encourage more conciliatory behavior from the mullahs, he was sadly mistaken. Iranian relations with Saudi Arabia have taken a dramatic turn for the worse in recent weeks. The Islamic Cold War that has dragged on between Riyadh and Tehran since 1979, when the revolutionary regime took power, is melting down and may get hot, based on current indications. The breaking of diplomatic relations between them is an unmistakably bad sign. A major regional war is a distinct possibility, given rising tensions on many fronts: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and across the Gulf, where Saudis, Iranians, and their various proxies wage war increasingly openly.

Just how bad things have gotten in the Gulf is made plain by Pakistan’s recent statement that it would back the Saudis militarily if things get out of hand with Iran, their mutual foe. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, both majority-Sunni, have their disagreements but are united in their fear of Iranian – that is, Shia – dominance in the Gulf region. Particularly worrying is the view of many in the spy business that Pakistan would quickly send a nuclear weapon to Riyadh if needed to deter Tehran.

It’s a poorly guarded secret that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, which came to fruition in 1998 with a successful nuclear bomb test, was partly funded by the Saudis, who wanted a Sunni Bomb. In exchange, Islamabad will come to Riyadh’s aid, even nuclear aid, in an hour of crisis. “If Tehran announces on a Monday that it has a nuke, the Saudis will ‘suddenly’ have one by Wednesday,” explained a Pentagon nuclear expert.

Just as worrisome is the reality of nuclear ties between Tehran and Pyongyang, which just conducted another major atomic weapons test to showcase its power. Iranian scientists have observed previous North Korean nuclear tests and a big question now facing the U.S. Intelligence Community is: Did any Iranians participate in the test last week? It’s an alarming fact that Iran can get a nuclear weapon at any time from a single IL-76 cargo flight from North Korea – which may, or may not, be detected by Western intelligence.

Into this unraveling mess stumbled two U.S. Navy small craft yesterday. Such missions take place nearly every day, where Iranian and Western – often American – warships play cat and mouse games in the waterways of what Tehran ceaselessly reminds the world is the Persian Gulf. According to press reports, the boats experienced mechanical trouble and wound up on Farsi Island, in the middle of the Gulf. That island just happens to have a base operated by the naval force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the notorious Pasdaran.

The Pasdaran are infamous for their support for terrorism across the Middle East and beyond and have played a large role in Iraq and Syria of late, but they also possess naval forces that compensate for their lack of major vessels with impressive acumen with small boats that are fast and well-armed. They employ them aggressively, and Pasdaran craft regularly confront Western naval vessels they believe are getting close to their turf.

How exactly our boats wound up in Iranian hands remains something of a mystery so far.

How exactly our boats wound up in Iranian hands remains something of a mystery so far. Reports of navigational errors need investigation and the possibility of Iran spoofing our GPS cannot be ruled out. Regrettably, the notion that both boats suffered mechanical breakdowns is only too plausible.

They are called Riverine Command Boats by the Navy, which has used them for operations in shallow waters for nearly a decade. They are actually Swedish in origin and, while they are very fast, able to achieve 40 knots, and are well armed for their size, they function poorly in the Persian Gulf. Designed for the chilly Baltic Sea, the RCB frequently overheats in the hot climate and its high-performance engines shut down with alarming frequency. Not for nothing do pairs of RCBs go out on missions in the Persian Gulf with tow lines – to bring the other boat back home if, perhaps when, it breaks down.

It’s therefore a good question why the Fifth Fleet, our Navy outfit in the Gulf, headquartered in Bahrain, sent such unreliable vessels into dangerous waters yesterday. This needs to be answered, particularly in light of previous cases of Pasdaran ambushes against Western naval vessels, namely an incident with the British frigate Cornwall in 2007 plus an incident with the Australian frigate Adelaide in 2004. Vigilance ought to have been in order yesterday but apparently was not.

The good news is that our ten sailors have been returned unharmed – Tehran naturally insisted the sole female sailor in the group be covered in hijab for the cameras, for political effect — and we’ve gotten our RCBs back too. However, it should be expected that not everything has been returned by Iran, such as the sophisticated electronics gear such boats carry. That will be of high interest to the Pasdaran and their friends abroad.

The White House has been at pains to play down the incident, which is singularly off-message with how Mr. Obama paints his relations with his partners in Tehran. Secretary of State John Kerry actually thanked the Iranians for their “help” in returning the sailors without further incident, which does nothing to diminish fears that Mr. Obama will tolerate Iranian misdeeds of any kind, so desperate is he to preserve his showpiece nuclear deal with the mullahs.

Regrettably, the regime’s military and security policy is dictated not by the relatively polite diplomats of the Iranian foreign ministry, rather by the revolutionary hotheads of the Pasdaran, many of whom actively seek confrontation with “the Great Satan.” Hence deals cut with Tehran will apply only as far as the Revolutionary Guard deems them to be in Iran’s interest. In the case of nuclear matters, that isn’t very far at all.

For years, Obama has insisted that Tehran can be a good-faith partner in diplomacy. Indeed, the president has staked his whole foreign policy legacy on this assumption. His grand bargain with the revolutionary regime, which will begin its reintegration into decent global society, is so important to Mr. Obama that he has wrecked our relations with close allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel to achieve it.

The president is so eager to accommodate Iran that he more or less overlooked Tehran’s efforts to blow up the Saudi Ambassador to the United States in public in downtown Washington, DC, back in 2011, an outrageous act of war that ought to have forced this White House to rethink its Middle East strategy, yet did not. Compared to that incident, the brief arrest of ten American sailors seems like a minor annoyance that can be overlooked for the greater good. As Mr. Obama begins his last year in office, we can only hope the Pasdaran feels the same.

nrogeiro

Wed, 01/13/2016 - 10:43am

Some interesting facts:

1.It had the potential to transform itself into another Tehran hostage crisis, in an election year and the possibility of an October surprise. But it didn't.

2.Iran would have everything to lose by prolonging the crisis, even from the point of view of its national pride. It should be noted that the Northern Gulf Farsi island was virtually surrounded by the Charles de Gaulle and the Truman aircraft carriers.

3. 10 sailors, even coming close to IRCG base, were not worthy the collapse of the nuclear treaty, and an excuse for even tighter US-Saudi, US-Israel, US-Turkish, US-UAE (from Abu Dhabi you see the Iranian Bandar Abbas naval base) ties. Iran, at this moment, needs more and not less friends.

4. The initial rhetoric from the Guard Force - carried through the Farsi version of the Fars News Agency (not the English version) - was rather hostile, suggesting the boats were SF ones, heavily armed and equipped, and suspected of being a scout or snooping party.

5. After all, no Special Forces Mark V or Mark VI's, but just two RCB 90's. These riverine command boats are actually none other than the Swedish CB90 patrol boat, a great and tested design.

6.When Barack Obama read his last State of the Union address, the clue for the release of the sailors was evident: no negative mention of Iran. The crews freedom was already secured.

Nuno Rogeiro
Lisbon, Portugal