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Is Bush losing his grip on the military?

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Navy report undermines Bush's efforts to isolate Iran


TEHRAN: The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet has released a statement saying it cannot say with any certainty that threats to blow up its vessels actually came from Iranian Navy speedboats in Sunday's Straits of Hormuz incident.

The revelation tacitly supports the Iranian version of events, in that it was a normal challenge by Iranian naval officials for the American vessels to identify themselves, and at no time was there any serious danger of an escalation or any hostile action.

According to the commander of the Iranian naval forces, the patrol boats were on a regular patrol when they challenged the three American vessels to identify themselves and declare any helicopter activity in the area.

The U.S. quickly released a video showing Iranian speedboats in close proximity to the warships, with audio that the Iranians claimed was fake.

On Thursday the Iranian Navy released its own footage, taken on board one of the speedboats, showing a radio operator making clear requests in English for identification and activity reports. One of the American vessels can be heard to reply; "This is coalition warship 73, I am operating in international waters."

Shortly after the challenge and the response, the Iranian speedboats left the area.

The incident came as President George W. Bush began his first ever visit to Israel, where he frequently cited the Hormuz incident as further evidence of Iran's belligerence.

The latest U.S. Navy report, however, appears to suggest quite the opposite, and undermines current efforts by Bush to isolate Iran and build an anti-Tehran alliance among its Arab neighbours.

But the question is; Did the naval commanders deliberately rob their Commander-in-Chief of a timely stick to beat the Iranians with?

"There may have been tendency among the command levels to assume that those radio messages came from the Iranian boats, and their initial reports were based on their assumptions rather on what their equipment actually told them," said Carl Osgood, a Washington-based writer and political analyst.

"I think one possible reason why the admission was made is because there is concern in the American military command about going to war by accident," he said.

There is resistance among the highest levels of the United States military against a war against Iran, Osgood said, "and that could be a source, or a source, of that admission."

He pointed out that Admiral William Fallon, head of the U.S. Central Command, had expressed his opposition to escalating tension with Iran.

Fallon told al-Jazeera television in September, "This constant drum beat of conflict is what strikes me, which is not helpful and not useful. I expect there will be no war and that is what we ought to be working for."

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British journalist currently based in Tehran, Iran.
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