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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

So today the headlines seem a little more positive, but I’m not holding my breath we’ll see our kidnapped forces released anytime soon.
Apologies for a lack of posting, the past week has been unexpectedly busy, but so this is going to be a lengthy one.

First point is the question about the kidnapping. Now had those boats been in Iranian waters Iran’s conduct would have been entirely legit. The MoD has also shown to everyone’s apparent satisfaction, where the boats were when they were captured. There has been criticism of the maps the MoD used showing that the boats were not in Iranian waters, because the Iraqi and Iranian governments have never agreed and negotiated the exact borders of their respective territorial waters, and hence those maps are less worth than would at first seem. However, Iran gave one position for the British boats to show they were in Iranian waters, and once the UK pointed out that that position would be well within the maps’ proper area, Iran hastily changed the position at which it claims the sailors and marines were seized. This shows that the Iranian forces were a) accepting of the territorial lines on temporary map, and b) were (now) aware that their capture was indefensible. Just to clarify this, Iran only has a right to conduct such operations in its own waters. So, even if you think UK forces shouldn’t be in Iraq and their presence is illegitimate etc, this has no bearing on the issue, as it only matters if they were in Iranian waters.
Now, you could argue that the border lines are in dispute. Ok. But then why is it indefensible for British forces, acting in line with a UN resolution, searching an Iraq-bound vessel on behest of the Iraqi government, to stray into disputed territory, but it’s apparently just fine for Iran to go into the same disputed territory and seize at gun-point? So, the Iranian regime knew either from the outset or after a day that the holding of the forces and their equipment was criminal, so it is quite right to speak kidnapping and hostages.
In effect this was an act of piracy and aggressive war. Nothing wrong with pointing this out either.

The second issue really is what can we actually do about it?
The EU is Iran’s biggest trading partner and any suggestion that their might be retaliatory sanction would put the heat on the regime. Our forces were operating under a UN mandate so the UN could issue some serious demands. Neither did anything. This demonstrates that in the field of security the UN and the EU are either good for nothing or worse. We can just about forget about them.
Do we have any military options? Well, it would be unreasonable to suggest nuking Iran, and in any case it wouldn’t really secure the release of the hostages . . . Ok, so seriously. An operation to free the captives was only really on the cards while they were being taken to Iran and perhaps while they were in a military base on the coastline. I’m guessing we had no contingency planning or indeed forces for such an operation, and that should be considered in the "lesson learnt" category. I don’t see that we would be able to extract our troops from where they are now due to a lack of intelligence on their whereabouts and the lack of an appropriate force to get them out of what is presumably a Revolutionary Guards compound in Teheran. Obviously we don’t have the forces to threaten much else against Iran proper. The only option I alluded to in the last posting was taking action against Iranian interests in southern Iraq. This has not been done in the past and neither was that build-up opposed by Britain for fear of being provocative. The result of non-action has of course been just that, provocative, for Iran thought it could get away with such an action as another kidnapping. If and when the hostages come free such actions should be considered anyway as punishment for the kidnapping.
So, if there’s not much to do here, perhaps diplomacy can save the day. The problem I see here is that we have little to offer the Iranian regime. It looks like they want confrontation, and the current crops politics is a politics of crisis so they need crises. We can’t really offer any compromise or climb-down our nuclear weapons stance. My only hope is that staying staunch on that issue at the last vote at the UN and after, demonstrated to Iran a sufficient level of British determination. Perhaps that has helped.
I don’t really see many options for us. I suppose we could always hand over some ransom money, or offer something similar, such as placing anti-regime activists on EU terrorism lists, to pick an entirely random possibility. For many reasons we will come to regret any of those moves, but I really don’t have much good advice on this whole sorry saga.

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