U.S. Rappahannock Does the Right Thing

Firing on approaching boat was proper security policy.

A recent Frontpage article urged the U.S. Navy to fire on small boats that approach U.S. warships rather then let them draw near and detonate bombs, as was the case in 2000 with the USS Cole, with a cost of 17 American lives and more than $250 million in repairs. It seems that somebody got the message.

On July 16 in the Persian Gulf, a small boat rapidly approached the USS Rappahannock, a refueling ship with the US Fifth Fleet. The boat ignored repeated warnings to stay away, including warning shots. When it continued a swift, deliberate approach, the security team aboard the Rappahannock opened fire with a .50 caliber machinegun, killing one member of the approaching boat’s crew and wounding two others.

Iran used the incident to charge that “foreign forces” are a threat to “regional security.” This from a nation that has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a vital passage for oil supplies, and to eliminate the state of Israel from the map of the region. And this was the nation that, during the Carter Era, called the United States the “Great Satan,” took 52 Americans hostage and held them captive for 444 days. More recently, Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

The menacing boat, meanwhile, was a fishing vessel with an Indian crew and registered to a company in the United Arab Emirates. The Navy and UAE will conduct investigations and the U.S. Ambassador to India issued a statement regretting the loss of life. While the investigations proceed, some realities are clear.

The Navy is refueling ships at sea rather than in dangerous ports such as Aden, in dangerous countries such as Yemen, where they are vulnerable to terrorist attacks as with the USS Cole. The refueling ships are not sitting ducks but carry security teams, with the arms, ammunition and orders to protect the lives of American servicemen from terrorist attack. This is all sound policy and should be continued, or even beefed up, whatever the results of the investigation.

It is entirely possible that this Persian Gulf incident was a test of U.S. resolve and a probe of security measures. If so, the Navy and the nation passed the test. No American lives were lost and the Rappahannock suffered no damage. But Navy brass, and political leaders, should consider ways to improve the security policies. In addition to their security teams, perhaps refueling ships should have a destroyer escort such as the USS Cole, which has not been forgotten.

As Lawrence Wright noted in The Looming Tower, after the attack injured petty officer Kathy Lopez, swathed in bandages, managed to whisper a message for U.S. officials. “Get them,” she said. It took a while, but they got at least one.

In May a CIA drone took out Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, the Al Qaeda chief who masterminded the Cole attack and was plotting to bring down airliners with an improved underwear bomb. That kind of precision targeting in effect continues a Reagan policy, “you can run but you can’t hide.” Reagan said that in 1985 after ordering U.S. Navy F-14 fighters to force the landing of an Egyptian airliner carrying four Palestinian terrorists who had murdered Leon Klinghoffer, 69 years old and in a wheelchair, aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

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