WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Thursday that the radio threat to bomb U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf last weekend may not have come from the five Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats that approached them – and may not even have been intended against U.S. targets.
The communication Sunday was made on radio channel 16, a common marine frequency used by ships and others in the region. “It could have been a threat aimed at some other nation or a myriad of other things,” said Rear Adm. Frank Thorp IV, a spokesman for the Navy.
In the radio message recorded by the Navy, a heavily accented voice said, “I am coming to you. You will explode after a few minutes.” But Farsi speakers and Iranians told the Washington Post that the accent did not sound Iranian.
In part because of the threatening language, the United States has elevated the encounter into an international incident. Twice this week, President Bush criticized Iran’s behavior as provocative and warned of “serious consequences” if it happens again.
Pentagon officials insist that they never claimed Iran made the threat. “No one in the military has said that the transmission emanated from those boats. But when they hear it simultaneously to the behavior of those boats, it only adds to the tension,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. “If this verbal threat emanated from something or someone unrelated to the five boats, it would not lessen the threat from those boats.”
The warning was picked up on a bridge-to-bridge communication received by many ships in the region some seven minutes after the five Iranian patrol boats first appeared on the horizon, Thorp said. The main threat, Pentagon officials said, was the way the five patrol boats swarmed erratically around the USS Port Royal, an Aegis cruiser, and an accompanying frigate and destroyer, and then dropped small white box-like items in the water.
“When you get a bridge-to-bridge call you have no way of knowing where it came from,” Thorp said. “Nobody ever with any certainty knew it was from them. But it did escalate it up a notch as it was happening at the same time” that the patrol boats manned by Revolutionary Guards engaged in menacing behavior, Thorp said.