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As far as international incidents go, this one's a little baffling.
On Tuesday, we gave you the rundown of Sunday's incident in the Strait of Hormuz, when three hulking American naval ships were greeted by five Iranian speedboats. U.S. officials said that the boats maneuvered aggressively, dropped two white boxes in the water, and issued threats over the radio. Just when the boats were getting too close for comfort, they said, and the Americans were preparing for a warning shot, the boats sped away.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon released an edited video of the incident, which you can see here:
On the audio (mp3) of the radio communication, a voice slowly pronounces the words "I am coming to you," and then as the American tries to communicate, says, "You will explode after a few minutes."
But since then, the American version of the incident has undergone a revision. The radio threat, the Navy now admits, may not have come from the Iranian boats after all. The voice, a number of observers have pointed out, seems to come out of nowhere and doesn't have the expected engine noise in the background, and in fact, The Washington Postreports, the accent doesn't even sound Iranian.
The Iranians, meanwhile, have steadfastly insisted that nothing of this sort ever happened. To that effect, they released a video yesterday of a completely ordinary greeting between Iranian and naval vessels. But it's impossible to tell whether it's even the same incident. U.S. officials say that it's not.
So.... It remains unclear what happened really happened there and why. William Arkin of the Post's Early Warning blog suggests that Iran "wanted to send a not-so-subtle message to their Persian Gulf neighbors that they could disrupt the flow of oil and that any U.S.-Iranian confrontation would hurt the pocketbooks of the ruling sheiks."
The Bush administration took the ball and ran with it, playing up the "confrontation," though President Bush seemed to indicate an initial dearth of talking points. He regained his footing later, warning of "serious consequences" if it happened again. And if it does happen again, maybe it will all seem less strange.