WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As President Bush prepared Tuesday to head to Israel and the West Bank for the first time as commander-in-chief, he called a confrontation between U.S. Navy warships and Iranian boats in the Strait of Hormuz "a provocative act."
Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats "harassed and provoked" U.S. Navy ships Sunday, the U.S. military says.
The incident happened Sunday in the narrow shipping channel that leads in and out of the Persian Gulf.
"It's a dangerous situation, and they should not have done it, pure and simple," Bush said during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden. "I don't know what their thinking was."
The U.S. ships received a "threatening" radio transmission indicating the boats were closing in on them and the U.S. ships would "explode," said Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet. Watch the confrontation »
No shots were fired and no one was injured in the confrontation, which lasted about 10 minutes, the Defense Department said.
Bush now turns his attention to a mission aimed at spurring the fragile Mideast peace process.
Speaking to reporters, Bush said he hopes to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree on clear definitions of a future independent Palestinian state.
"They need to have a vision that competes with the terrorists and the killers who murder the innocent people to stop the advance of democracy," Bush said.
The president said he also intends to work with "Arab friends and allies on this very issue" and remind them of the strategy and obligations "they have to help this vision become a reality."
In the region, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Jerusalem and agreed to have their negotiating teams "conduct direct and ongoing negotiations on all final status/core issues," Olmert's spokesman said.
Security is tight ahead of Bush's scheduled arrival on Wednesday. So much so that large parts of Jerusalem and much of the West Bank, including Ramallah, will be, in effect, shut down.
Concerns heightened over the weekend after American al Qaeda member Adam Yahiye Gadahn released a videotape calling on followers to "receive [Bush] not with flowers or clapping but with bombs and booby-trapped vehicles." Watch Gadahn's ominous warning »
More than 10,000 police will be deployed across the region to back U.S. federal officers in what is the largest security operation in Israel since Pope John Paul II's visit in March 2000.
Security will also be heavy at a number of large demonstrations in Israel planned to protest Bush's visit.
When first lady Laura Bush visited Jerusalem's holy sites in 2005, she faced angry crowds of Israelis and Palestinians, which forced Israeli police to form a human wall separating her from the protesters.
To minimize his exposure, Bush will do most of his traveling by helicopter, but some stops on in his itinerary, particularly in the West Bank, are reachable only by car and on foot. That, security analysts say, will be the most dangerous time for the president.
During his tour of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority will aid U.S. security teams in protecting the president.
On Friday, Bush is scheduled to depart Jerusalem for Kuwait. He will then head to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He returns to Washington next Wednesday.
A major challenge for Bush will be keeping the trip focused on Israeli-Palestinian peace while other issues -- Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and soaring oil prices -- dominate the media headlines and serve as reminders of the region's instability.
Bush hopes to have a peace deal before he leaves office in a year, and both Abbas and Olmert agreed to work toward such an agreement at the November 27 U.S.-sponsored peace summit in Annapolis, Maryland.
Subsequent meetings between the Israeli and Palestinian delegations have been overshadowed by disagreements over Israel's plans to expand settlements in disputed areas of the West Bank.
The efforts to restart serious peace talks have also been overshadowed by ongoing rocket assaults from Hamas-controlled Gaza that have prompted a strong Israeli military response.
When Bush took office in 2001, his aides were scornful of his predecessor's attempt to achieve peace at Camp David in the waning days of his presidency, accusing former President Bill Clinton of trying to do too much, too fast.
P.J. Crowley, who once advised Clinton on national security issues, said the Bush administration has paid a price for its go-slow approach.
"Even with the Camp David failure, there was still a lot of material on the table that the Bush administration could have pursued had it chosen to give the Middle East peace process a priority in 2001," said Crowley, now of the Center for American Progress. "The president took a different tack."
However, Bush aides have said the president's incremental approach is now bearing fruit because he can work with Abbas instead of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat -- who they saw as an obstacle.
"The president has been working fairly consistently over seven years to put in place the building blocks of what now offers an opportunity for peace," said White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley. "And he has seized that opportunity." E-mail to a friend
CNN's Ed Henry in Washington and Atika Shubert in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
|Most Viewed||Most Emailed||Top Searches|