Monday, January 14, 2008
The Strait Skinny
Kaveh Afrasiabi makes the claim that far from being a case of Iranian provocation, the recent incident in the Strait of Hormuz was actually a case of the American vessels invoking the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on the one hand, while violating it on the other:
According to Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgiff, the US ships were "five kilometers outside Iranian territorial waters". Yet, this is disputed by another dispatch from the US ships that states, "I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law."
Given that the approximately three-kilometer-wide inbound traffic lane in the Strait of Hormuz is within Iran's territorial water, the US Navy's invocation of "transit passage" harking back to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, (UNCLOS) is hardly surprising.
Among the subsequent violations that Afrasiabi identifies, the videotape released by the Pentagon showed an American helicopter hovering over the convoy, despite the fact that the launching of aircraft is expressly forbidden during transit passage. The US has also been engaged in sonar soundings in the Strait, which under the terms of the Convention requires the consent of the states bordering the passage. Furthermore, the use of force against the states bordering the passage is also forbidden, making the firing of warning shots against Iranian vessels technically illegal as well, especially if the Iranian vessels are engaged in enforcing Tehran's sovereign rights within its territorial waters under the terms of the Convention.
Now the US is technically not a signatory to the UNCLOS. But if what Afrasiabi is maintaining is true, what the US Navy has described as a pattern of provocation on the part of Iran is in fact an American attempt to enjoy the protections of the Convention while not respecting its obligations. And the Iranian response becomes more understandable.