US and Iran on the “verge of military conflict” yesterday

 In Iran

Concern grew yesterday when Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps boats reportedly provoked US ships in the Strait of Hormuz, sending the radio transmission, “we’re coming at you. Your ships will explode in a couple of minutes.”

After the radio transmission, two of the Iranian boats dropped "white box-like objects" into the water, Cosgriff said. The U.S. ships responded with evasive maneuvers, radioed warnings to the Iranians and sounded ships’ whistles, while ordering increased readiness of their own vessels. After their messages were not heeded, the U.S. ships prepared to fire in self-defense, but the Iranians abruptly turned and sped north toward their territorial waters.

The incident, which lasted less than 30 minutes, comes on the eve of President Bush’s trip to the Middle East, in which he is expected to seek support from Gulf nations for a tougher stance against Tehran. The Bush administration called the episode a serious provocation and warned Iran about the dangers of such actions.

"I found the action by the Iranians quite troubling, actually, and a matter of real concern," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday while visiting the USS New Orleans in San Diego. "This is a very volatile area, and the risk of an incident . . . escalating is real. I can’t imagine what was on their minds."

Gates said the incident "is a reminder that there is a very unpredictable government in Tehran," adding that "it would be nice to see the Iranian government disavow this action and say that it won’t happen again." U.S. and Iranian naval vessels have been involved in two or three similar events over the past year, but they were "not quite as dramatic as this one," he said.

Any confrontation like this raises concern, especially with an administration that is inclined to jump to military action as a solution to conflict. The recent National Intelligence Estimate has taken some of the urgency out of Bush’s argument for a possible military attack and seems to have slowed the momentum toward military confrontation, but incidents like this indicate that we must always be vigilant in promoting diplomacy with Iran.

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