The public story about how 10 U.S. sailors fell into Iranian custody two weeks ago "doesn't add up," according to the only former Navy SEAL serving in Congress.
"It doesn't add up to me that somehow two boats are stranded within the territory of Iran waters," Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., told the Washington Examiner in a Tuesday interview. "There's a lot of questions out there that we have and I think Congress and the American people should know the answers."
Secretary of State John Kerry touted the release of the sailors, who were detained for 16 hours, as a testament to improved relations between the United States and the Iranian regime. But while U.S. officials say the combination of a navigational error and engine trouble is what let the boats drift into Iranian waters, Zinke, who concluded a 23-year naval career in 2008, said he can only think of two possible explanations — either a failure of the sailors to execute "basic seamanship," or some as-yet-undisclosed Iranian belligerence.
"It seems to me that a number of very straightforward planning considerations either weren't planned, or the plan wasn't followed," he said.
Zinke said it shouldn't be possible for a mechanical failure to cause a patrol boat to drift into Iranian waters, because the vessels travel in pairs and carry towing bridles to ensure that one vessel can keep the other out of harm's way. The lightly armed patrol boats also should have been on high alert given recent Iranian actions, such a military exercise that involved launching rockets approximately 1,500 yards away from a U.S. aircraft carrier.
In the context of such provocative actions, Zinke speculated that Iran might have taken custody of the patrol boats as a hostile act.
"I think America needs to know the truth about whether or not the situation was from a lack of training or something more," he said. "Where did the Iranians intercept them? Did they intercept them with a superior force? Were they actually in Iranian territorial waters or were they in international waters?"
Whether they planned the operation or not, Iranian government officials have turned the incident into a propaganda victory. They published photos of the sailors in custody and broadcast memes on social media on Tuesday. "It was in fact God's deed that took Americans to our waters," Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, tweeted Tuesday.