Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fight or Flight - Part 2

Information Dissemination recently posted an article supporting the actions taken by the US crews in the recent Iranian seizure of our boats and their crews (1).  Well, actually, the article supported the lack of action taken since the crews offered no resistance and acquiesced to the Iranians surrender demands.

The article suggests that resistance would have resulted in grave consequences, strategically, for the US and would have set a precedent for the Chinese to act in a similar fashion in their on-going territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas.  The article goes further and states that the US lieutenant who apologized actually “forwarded America strategically”.  Ignoring that highly dubious claim, the article misses the key aspect of the affair, however, and that is history.  There is nothing in the history of our dealings with Iran to suggest that the crews, once surrendered, would have been returned as quickly as they were.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Iran has arrested and held people indefinitely for far less. 

The recently released Americans were imprisoned by Iran for an extended period and, reportedly, subjected to torture.

The March 2007 seizure of 15 Royal Navy personnel resulted in their being held for 13 days and, upon release, Iran claimed the right to put the personnel on trial but opted to “pardon” them instead.  It is reported that equipment was not fully returned and the personnel were subjected to harsh physical treatment and psychological pressures during their confinement including threats of long term imprisonment if they failed to admit their guilt.

A 2004 seizure of 8 RN personnel resulted in their being held for 3 days during which they were forced to endure a mock execution among other physical and psychological tortures.  The RN’s boats were never returned.

The Iranian Hostage Crisis which took place from Nov 1979 to Jan 1981 resulted in 60 American diplomats and citizens being held for 444 days.

And, of course, there is always the spectre of the routine chanting of "Death to America" by both the Iranian people and their highest level leaders.  Not exactly encouraging to a boat crew contemplating surrender.

With this historical context, there was absolutely no reason to expect that the US crews, once they surrendered, would be promptly released.  In fact, history suggests that the crews would have been held for an extended period, quite possibly subjected to torture, and used as pawns in international gamesmanship.

The crews could not have had any reasonable expectation of quick release and should have had every expectation of a lengthy and unpleasant period of imprisonment.

The Information Dissemination article suggests that the lack of resistance on the part of the US crews somehow advanced America’s strategic position.  However, had this turned out as history suggested it would, the crew’s surrender and subsequent imprisonment would have caused the US severe political and strategic difficulties.

The US boats were, apparently, in Iranian territorial waters and, therefore, in the wrong, however it came to pass.  Therefore, what the crews should have done is indicated their desire to leave Iranian waters as quickly as possible and complied with Iranian efforts to remove them from their waters but not by surrendering.  Being in the wrong, the crews should not have fired first but should not have surrendered.  They should have refused to allow the Iranians to board them and should have resisted, if necessary.

Anyone who makes the argument that what the crews did was right because nothing happened is using hindsight to justify an historically unsupportable action that, at the moment of surrender, was far more likely to have turned out badly rather than well.

I also have no problem with the US apologizing after the affair was concluded and with the crews having refused to surrender.

There are some who would suggest that if the situation were reversed and Iranian boats wandered into American waters that we would have done the same.  This argument misses the same key aspect and that is history.  The US has no history of seizing and mistreating foreign sailors and holding them for extended periods.  It’s far more likely that we would have offered mechanical assistance, food, comforts, and escorted them out of our waters without ever boarding their boats.  There is a huge difference in the histories of the behaviors of the two countries.

Finally, the passive surrender by the crews simply emboldens the next unfriendly country that wants to embarrass the US and now sees that we won’t resist.  All our weapons and technology is useless and offers no deterrent value if we won’t use it.  The next incident is unlikely to end as well as this one.


  1. When people get caught doing something stupid they usually do not put up much defense. This whole thing smells of stupidity.

    So why expect a crew that got into this mess by not thinking to suddenly start thinking like Naval Personnel and protect their ship or at least the sovereignty of the United States?

    Focus on why/how they got their. Training, thinking, supervision, orders, whatever. Only use their conduct after getting caught being stupid as the last take away from this EXCELLENT future training example.

    1. You're quite right. Mission planning was clearly inadequate. One of the planning points should have been what to do if approached by Iranians.

      More generally, every US military unit in the region should have a standardized response doctrine that, in part, states never give up your asset or yourself.

    2. "So why expect a crew that got into this mess by not thinking to suddenly start thinking like Naval Personnel ..."

      Let me elaborate. This is what mission planning is all about. No matter how seemingly simple the mission, you plan it then plan for what can go wrong then plan for what you're sure can't go wrong but will anyway. This mission planning 101 and is especially necessary when operating around unfriendly countries. Attention to detail.

  2. Once again, the crews were not "caught". They were not idle and asleep and surprised by the Iranians. Those are fast boats and they saw the Iranians approaching from hundreds of meters away. They only had to change course and speed away.

    Someone ordered them to enter Iranian waters and surrender. They never even made a radio transmission! They had far more firepower! Which Admiral ordered this incident to happen? This is the reality that no one wants to discuss.

    Note the crews remain imprisoned by our Navy for "debriefing". As in the Pueblo case, it probably is a weeks worth of intimidation with threats to make sure no one talks except to repeat the same unbelievable story.

    1. I really prefer stupid to be the case here, because what you are suggesting is either a rogue Admiral or a deliberate fabrication of an embarrassing incident on direction from above 5th Fleet. Either of the later cases are MUCH more serious than stupidity.

      Also in either of the later cases Senior Navy Managers (they are not Leaders based on this behavior) need to be fired for either a) coming up with this OP, or b) going along with it.

    2. There is absolutely no evidence that these crew were any form of SpecOps people. They appear to be ordinary crew. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that a secret mission was performed. The SpecOps community would not allow it! This appears to be simple stupidity and failure backed up by shockingly poor mission planning and what-if preparation.

      This is just an example of what I've been saying all along - our Navy is broken.

    3. The notion that these guys had no comms with higher authority is very dubious. I don't think they were ordered into Iranian waters, but I think they were probably ordered to cooperate after it became clear what was happening. I can't imagine that LT apologized like that without instructions to de-escalate.

    4. "The notion that these guys had no comms with higher authority is very dubious."

      Of course they had comms but "higher authority" is famous for indecision so I doubt it did them any good.

  3. As everyone knows, there are many powerful people who want war with Iran, and strongly oppose any diplomacy. Is it just a coincidence that this happened right before something peaceful occurred?

    From: http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/16/middleeast/vienna-iran-iaea-nuclear-deal/index.html

    Istanbul, Turkey — Putting a quick end to an incident that could easily have escalated, Iran has released 10 US Navy sailors and their two boats that it had detained overnight in its territorial waters.

    Swift diplomacy on the eve of implementing the landmark nuclear deal agreed to last July between Iran and world powers helped defuse the crisis. That included direct contact between top diplomats of both countries via channels that were pioneered during years of nuclear talks.


    But the Iranians saw the trap and let the bait go right away. There is your explanation. If someone would have been killed, or the Iranians detained them longer, the deal might have fallen through. This happened before, just read between the lines about the USS Pueblo incident. So far as loose Admirals, there are lots of stories, like when President Nixon learned the Navy had bugged his office and the entire Iran-Contra thing.

  4. International law and provision of UNCLOS provides innocent passage to military vessels if for whatever reason they transit into the territorial waters of another state. There is no provision for boarding as happened in this incident. This incident pushes back years of FONOP's in protecting innocent passage. What is stopping the Chinese now in boarding US military vessels within the 12 nm territorial waters of the disputed islands given this precedent and the U.S. passive response to it.

    1. That's an interesting take on the incident. The Innocent Passage procedure has certain requirements that may not have been met in this case. For instance, the procedure requires that the ships conducting passage not stop or conduct any military activities like operating radars (other than nav), training guns, etc. The stoppage alone may have invalidated the Passage.

      Your comment also brings up the legal question of distress. Ships in distress that inadvertently wander into foreign waters would not be treated as prisoners. I don't know the legalities of this. Presumably, the first issue in a distress scenario is to broadcast a request for assistance which was probably not done here.

    2. No matter how the argument is made, Iran clearly broke international law. If the two vessels were conducting military operation in Iranian waters, the most the Iranians could do is to escort the vessels out of their waters. Military vessels are protected from boarding - period. If indeed one of the boat was in distress, that would preclude the notion that its passage wasn't innocent.


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