U.S RETALIATION IN PERSIAN GULF : U.S. Navy Destroys Iranian Gulf Outpost : Oil Platform Was Used to Track Shipping, Guide Attacks; Tehran Vows Retaliation

Times Staff Writer

U.S. warships and demolition teams destroyed an Iranian oil platform in the Persian Gulf on Monday in retaliation for Iran’s missile attack last week against a U.S.-registered oil tanker in Kuwait.

Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger told reporters in Washington that there was no return fire from the platform, which the Pentagon said was being used as a “military observation and communications post and a radar surface search facility.” The platform lies in international waters 75 miles east of the Qatari Peninsula.

There were no U.S. injuries in the action, Weinberger said.

The U.S. attack, the third American military clash with Iran in less than a month, immediately raised fears in the gulf that Iran would seek revenge for the latest encounter, creating an ever-increasing cycle of attack and counterattack.


“We do not seek further confrontation with Iran but will be prepared to meet any escalation of military actions by Iran with stronger countermeasures,” Weinberger said in Washington.

Iran’s president, Ali Khamenei, was quoted by Tehran radio as saying, “We will definitely retaliate and will not leave this American move unanswered. They bombarded and destroyed our oil platform and harmed defenseless civilians.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran considers it has a natural right to retaliate against this impudent move of the United States,” he added.

Kamal Kharrazi, head of the Iranian war information headquarters, was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying that “the United States will receive a crushing response for its criminal attack on Iranian oil platforms in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. . . . has actually got involved in a full-fledged war with the Islamic Republic.”

Smoke Columns Seen

Iran asserted that not one but two of its oil platforms, about 30 miles apart, had been attacked. That version of events was initially given credence by gulf-based shipping sources who reported seeing columns of smoke rising from two sites.

The Pentagon subsequently clarified its account, saying that two sections of a single platform were separately attacked. The platform at one time had three sections, but the center section was destroyed by an Iraqi air attack last November.

Later Monday, the Pentagon said that the attack on the initial target caused Iranian personnel to abandon another platform about five miles away.

“After this (second) platform was abandoned, U.S. Navy men went aboard, looked around, destroyed some radar and communications equipment and then left,” spokesman Fred S. Hoffman said.

U.S. officials said that the main platform was armed with anti-aircraft guns and that the Iranians had been using it as a base from which to monitor shipping traffic in the gulf and guide attacks on shipping by gunboats.

Two guided-missile destroyers, the Kidd and the Noel, and two destroyers, the Leftwich and John Young, drew within three miles of the platform and bombarded it for about 85 minutes with their five-inch guns, using a total of about 1,000 shells.

Demolition Action

The Pentagon later reported that the ships actually destroyed only one of two sections of the platform. It said Navy demolition teams then moved in and blew up the second section.

Weinberger said the U.S. ships gave the 20 to 30 Iranians on the platform 20 minutes warning to abandon the platform and that most of them did so.

“This is the U.S. Navy,” the warships told the platform over the radio. “We will commence firing on your position at 1400 hours. You have 20 minutes to evacuate the platform.”

An Iranian radio broadcast said several civilian workers on the platforms were injured. There were reports that the Navy had rescued a number of Iranians from the ocean.

In the middle of the massive barrage, an Iranian tugboat captain radioed a plaintive plea to the warships: “U.S. warship. U.S. warship. Let me evacuate the injured before you shoot again.”

The Defense Department said that a Navy E-2C electronic surveillance plane was in the area to monitor Iranian air traffic and that U.S. jet fighters were scrambled from the aircraft carrier Ranger in the Arabian Sea to provide air cover for the operation.

Weinberger said that Iran also made a “tentative attempt” to put a warplane in the area but that the plane quickly turned back.

Merchant ships in the area were warned before Monday’s attack to stay clear, and Washington notified Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, West Germany and Japan before the attack, according to the Pentagon.

“The attack was carried out with highly professional skill and precision today and accomplished everything we had planned for it,” Weinberger said.

Launching Platform

According to Weinberger, the Rostam platform, as it is called in gulf shipping circles, had produced no oil since last year after repeated attacks on it by the Iraqi air force, which is trying to cut Iranian oil exports. The platform is linked by underwater pipeline with the Lavan Island oil terminal farther south.

Weinberger said the Iranians had installed 23-millimeter anti-aircraft guns and .50-caliber machine guns on the oil rig and had used the platform to launch gunboat attacks against civilian shipping.

“It’s removal will contribute significantly to the safety of U.S. forces in the future,” he said.

Weinberger said that Iranians on the platform had fired on a U.S. naval helicopter last week. At the time, officials said they could not determine if the Iranians were aiming at the helicopter or were merely testing their guns.

President Khamenei of Iran denied, however, that the platform was used for military operations, saying: “They hit economic targets with no defense facilities. Of course they may later lie that there were military personnel and facilities on the platforms, but the plain fact is that these were only oil platforms.”

Reduced Loss Possibilities

Beyond its use as a base for attacks on civilian shipping, the platform presented in many ways an ideal target. It was easy for U.S. forces to hit with a minimum of Iranian civilian casualties. It also left the United States short of having attacked Iranian territory and sharply reduced the possibility of air losses.

Before Monday’s action, there was widespread speculation in the gulf region that President Reagan would order an attack on the Silkworm missile batteries that Iran has installed on the Faw Peninsula, a sliver of territory that Iran captured from Iraq in their seven-year-old war. The Chinese-supplied Silkworms were used last week to attack two oil tankers at anchor in Kuwaiti waters, one of them flying the American flag and the other U.S.-owned but registered under the Liberian flag of convenience.

The American-owned, Liberian-registered supertanker Sungari was hit Thursday and caught fire. The second, hit on Friday, was the Sea Isle City, one of 11 ships that Kuwait re-registered in the United States last July to entitle them to U.S. Navy escort and protection in the gulf. The attack on the Sea Isle City, the first on one of the 11 re-registered ships since the supertanker Bridgeton struck a mine in July, blinded the American captain and wounded 17 others in the ship’s crew.

Western diplomats have confirmed that Iran fired Silkworm missiles from Faw Peninsula batteries to hit the two ships. They said that American explosives experts who inspected the Sea Isle City have found conclusive evidence that the missiles were Silkworms.

According to U.S. officials, a retaliatory strike against the Silkworm batteries was ruled out because the weapons are mobile and easily moved and because the area is at the extreme range for U.S. fighters planes based aboard the carrier Ranger in the Arabian Sea.

Tehran radio quoted a spokesman for Iran’s war information headquarters on Monday as saying of Friday’s missile attack, “We have not accepted any responsibility for the attack on that ship. Whatever has happened is the natural consequence of America’s actions in the Persian Gulf.”

The first U.S. clash with Iran occurred Sept. 21, when American helicopters captured an Iranian vessel, the Iran Ajr, which was laying mines in a deep-water international shipping channel north of Bahrain.

Two weeks later, U.S. helicopters put three Iranian gunboats out of operation near Farsi Island in the northern gulf, after one of the small, speedy craft reportedly fired on a U.S. observation helicopter.

Iran had vowed to retaliate against the United States for both of the earlier attacks.

Apparently because the U.S. Navy is present in such strength in the gulf--it has 13 warships inside the gulf and another 12 outside--Iran has concentrated its attacks on civilian shipping, by planting mines in sea lanes and firing missiles at Kuwait.

1. Oct 15-16: Iranians fire Chinese-made Silkworm missiles from the Faw Peninsula at ships anchored off Kuwait.

2. Oct. 16: The U.S.-registered tanker, Sea Isle City, is struck by an Iranian missile. Its American master and 177 others are injured.

3. Oct. 19: U.S. warships and demolition teams destroy an Iranian oil platform. Five miles to the north, Navy commandos board another rig, destroying radar and communications equipment.