Utter Hypocrisy of US Response to Iran Drone Shooting Incident
Yesterday, US media began reporting that Iranian fighter jets had shot at—but did not hit— an unarmed US drone off the coast of Iran last week. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little claimed that the unmanned military plane was over international waters 16 nautical miles off the coast of Iran, and that the drone had never been in Iranian airspace. In response, the US protested the shooting and warned Iran that it has "a wide range of options, from diplomatic to military," available to protect its assets. According to a CNN report, the incident has "raised fresh concerns within the Obama administration about Iranian military aggression in crucial Gulf oil shipping lanes."
It wasn't until today that the Iranian side of the story came to light. A few hours ago, Iranian defense minister, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, confirmed that Iranian fighter jets fired upon a US drone. He also contradicted the US description of the incident, stating that the drone had violated Iranian airspace.
So whether the drone did enter Iranian airspace is still uncertain. The drone's logs, as well as logs from the Iranian fighter jets, would be able to shed better light upon the situation. But it does sound suspicious that Iran would now choose to shoot upon a drone over international waters, seeing as how US drones have routinely surveilled the Persian Gulf for years. And it is not unheard of for a US drone to penetrate Iranian airspace, as evidenced by the drone that crashed well within Iranian territory last year.
No matter whether the drone was within Iranian airspace or over international waters, the US depiction of the event is utterly hypocritical.
Going back to the CNN report that tries to paint the incident as displaying Iranian aggression: seriously? It's aggressive for Iran to shoot at a US drone within view of the Iranian coast, but it's not aggressive for the US to be flying a military aircraft within a few miles of Iranian airspace?
Things become even more complicated when you consider, as the New York Times notes, that Predator drones are capable of monitoring Iranian activities even when they are outside Iranian airspace. So, is the US saying that spying isn't an aggressive activity?
Matters are further compounded by the fact that the US has instituted a de facto blockade on Iran via sanctions on Iran's Central Bank. The US knows that tensions are high between them and Iran, yet they're flying spy drones within four miles of Iran's territorial waters?
The fact of the matter is that Iran is not solely to blame for this incident. Even if the drone was indeed in international airspace, blame for this incident lies on both sides. But instead of wasting time blaming one side or the other, this incident ought to spark a discussion about reopening diplomatic and military channels in order to avoid incidents like this in the future. Last week, it was an unmanned, unarmed drone. But next week, it could be a piloted plane, or a crewed ship. Without proper military channels open, an incident at seas—or in the air—is virtually assured to recur. "We are not talking to Iran so we don't understand each other," Admiral Mike Mullen said last year. "If something happens, it's virtually assured that we won't get it right, that there will be miscalculations which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world. […] I think any channel would be terrific."
But also, there are signs that things aren't so dire. This incident occurred on November 1, but the Obama administration chose not to disclose it until after the election. That may have had something to do with the administration not wanting it to interfere with the election, but more fundamentally, it seems to show that the administration did not want to be placed in the position of possibly having to respond forcefully to the event, which it may have been pressured into if disclosed before the election. That is a good thing. The Iranians also chose not to disclose until the Obama administration had done so. That seems to show that they do not want to escalate either, and possibly that they see an Obama administration as more likely to negotiate than a Romney administration.
A few weeks ago, there were reports that Iran and the US had already agreed to more talks after the election. Both US and Iranian officials denied this. But maybe that's not the whole story, as reports come in that both the US and Iran look to be open for a new round of talks. By all accounts of the drone shooting, only a few shots were fired, the Iranian fighters did not pursue for long, and the drone landed back at its base unscathed. Iranian officials are using the incident as a showcase of their defensive capabilities, but top US officials aren't making as big of a deal as they potentially could. So perhaps the incident isn't entirely what it seems to be from the outside. At this point, though, all we can do is speculate.
It's funny to hear the United States making a big deal about Iran firing a few shots at an unmanned spy drone within a few miles of its territorial waters when the US never seems to have anything to say about Israel commandeering ships filled with peaceful demonstrators well within international waters. The latest such incident, which occurred just a few weeks ago, saw the Israeli Defense Force seize the Swedish-flagged ship Estelle and arrest its 30 passengers, including a US national, about 30 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. Last year, the Tahrir and Saoirse, which made up the Freedom Waves flotilla, were intercepted about 50 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza, while the ships comprising the second international Freedom Flotilla were stopped before they could leave the territorial waters of their European ports of origin. And of course, the bloody incident that took place upon the Mavi Marmara in which nine activists were killed, including a 19 year-old American citizen, occurred well inside international waters. Oh, and let's not forget the 1967 IDF attack of the USS Liberty nowhere near Israeli territorial waters, killing 34 crew members and injuring 171. Dare I say "double standard"?
Maybe I haven't been paying close enough attention to Pentagon-speak, but this is the first time I've noticed the switch to "Arabian Gulf" from "Persian Gulf." Added a nice, childish touch to the whole affair.