The Persian Gulf: an “Aquatic Tinderbox”

At the Daily Beast, Michael Adler reports on an incident that took place in the Persian Gulf in April. It seems that a speedboat approached a British frigate that specializes in anti-submarine warfare.

The confrontation is captured in a video obtained by The Daily Beast. The video shows the speedboat powering parallel to the British warship HMS Iron Duke, which was patrolling off of Bahrain, and then turning directly towards it. Foghorns blaring, gunners on the Iron Duke then fired 100 yards to the side of the speedboat, causing its two crew members to duck and stop – they then wave at the British sailors as they speed away.

Adler speculates that this was a show of bravado by members of Iran’s “second navy,” that of the Revolutionary Guard, for the benefit of Western ships that Iran believes are violating its territorial waters. Such situations are difficult to catch before they spiral out of control because — never mind the “second navy” — communication between the navy of the Islamic Republic’s itself and the West is poor. Adler writes that U.S. officials said that “the incident only highlights their worry that the Gulf is an aquatic tinderbox.”

Allow me to muddle this mixed metaphor – wet v. dry – even further: In an aquatic tinderbox, it can’t be easy to keep your powder dry.*

*These days, especially in the United States, “keep your powder dry” is taken as an admoninition to stay calm. But, as William Safire wrote in the New York Times in 1997, “Oliver Cromwell, at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642, is supposed to have told his Roundhead troops in that opening fight of the English civil war, ”Put your trust in God, my boys, but mind to keep your powder dry.” Of course, “when the powder is wet, the gun does not go off and the ammunition just sits there.” In fact, “The purpose of keeping powder dry is to be able to blaze away at the proper time. Thus, the phrase keep your powder dry is not limited to ”stay calm” but carries an implicit, most ominous threat: ‘and be prepared to blow the enemy’s head off at the propitious moment.’”