Iran Fires Back With Its Own Boat Video

031101-N-6939M-010 North Arabian Gulf (Nov. 11, 2003) -- USS Port Royal (CG 73) steams underway in support of Expeditionary Strike Group One (ESG-1). Port Royal and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are deployed with ESG-1 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Christopher Mobley. (RELEASED)
U.S. Navy/PM 2nd Class C. Mobley
Iran aired video Thursday of its boats and U.S. naval ships in the Persian Gulf in an apparent attempt to show that there was no confrontation between the vessels.

The grainy 5-minute, 20-second video - without sound or narration - showed a man speaking into a handheld radio, with three U.S. ships floating in the distance. It appeared to be shot from a small boat bobbing at least 100 meters from the American warships.

The footage did not show any Iranian boats approaching the U.S. vessels, nor any provocation. But the short clip likely did not show Sunday's entire encounter, which U.S. Navy officials described as threatening, and said lasted about 20 minutes.

It aired on Iran's state-run English-language channel Press TV, whose signal is often blocked inside Iran.

The clip also aired on the state-run Al-Alam Arabic channel, with an announcer saying the video showed "a routine and regular measure."

Later, another state TV channel aired 4 minutes of audio it said were radio communications between the Iranian boats and American ships.

"Coalition warship number 73, this is an Iranian navy patrol boat," a man's voice said in heavily-accented English. "This is coalition warship number 73 operating in international waters," an American voice replied.

Meanwhile Thursday, the U.S. lodged a formal diplomatic protest with Iran over the incident. The protest, which repeats public U.S. complaints about the "provocative" action, was sent to the Iranian Foreign Ministry through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which looks after U.S. interests in Iran, deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters. He could not say if the Iranians had actually received and acknowledged receipt of the protest.

The Pentagon has released its own video of Sunday's incident, showing small Iranian boats swarming around U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz.

In the recording, a man threatens in English, "I am coming to you. ... You will explode after ... minutes."

The incident, which ended without any shots fired, has heightened U.S.-Iranian tension as President Bush visits the region. Mr. Bush was in the West Bank on Thursday, and heads next to Arab Gulf nations where he is expected to discuss strategy on Iran.

Iran has denied its boats threatened the U.S. vessels, and accused Washington of fabricating its video. The Pentagon dismissed that claim and warned its ships would respond with force if threatened.

The Iranian video "seems to underscore the fact that the U.S. ships were operating in international waters, something so far, at least, the Iranians have not refuted," retired U.S. Army Col. Jeff McCausland told CBS' The Early Show.

McCausland, who is director of national security affairs for the Washington-based law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll, and Rooney added that Iran's claim that the Pentagon's video was fabricated could be an attempt to "ratchet up" tensions between the two nations.

On Thursday, the Web site of the Iranian state broadcasting company quoted a top Revolutionary Guards commander as calling the Pentagon's video "unusual and illogical."

"This attention by the U.S. media and officials to a routine encounter means Americans are taking an unusual approach to very ordinary issue," Gen. Ali Fadavi, the Guards' acting naval chief, was quoted as saying.