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From DefenseNews

 

Posted 03/23/07 08:25

Britain: 15 Navy Personnel Held by Iran

REUTERS, LONDON

 

Iran captured 15 British Royal Navy personnel during a "routine boarding operation" in Iraqi waters March 23, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.

Iran’s ambassador in London has been summoned and Britain is demanding the immediate safe release of the sailors.

"At approximately 1030 Iraqi time this morning, 15 British naval personnel, engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters ... were seized by Iranian naval vessels," the ministry said in a statement.

"We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level and on the instructions of the Foreign Secretary, the Iranian ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office. The British government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment."

The U.S. Navy in the Gulf said none of its military personnel was captured by Iran during an incident in Iraqi waters March 23.

"We can confirm that there are no U.S. military involved or held in this incident," a spokesman for U.S. Naval Central Command said.

 

From BBC News

 

Last Updated: Friday, 23 March 2007, 14:55 GMT

UK sailors captured at gunpoint

 

Fifteen British Navy personnel have been captured at gunpoint by Iranian forces, the Ministry of Defence says.

 

The men were seized at 1030 local time when they boarded a boat in the Gulf, off the coast of Iraq, which they suspected was smuggling cars.

 

The Royal Navy said the men, who were on a routine patrol in Iraqi waters, were understood to be unharmed.

 

The Foreign Office has demanded the immediate and safe return of the men, who are based on HMS Cornwall.

 

The frigate's commander, Commodore Nick Lambert, said he was hoping there had been a "simple mistake" over territorial waters.

 

"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they [british personnel] were in Iraqi territorial waters. Equally, the Iranians may claim they were in Iranian territorial waters.

 

"We may well find that this is a simple misunderstanding at the tactical level."

 

Helicopters had reported seeing two British boats being moved along the Shatt al-Arab waterway to Iranian bases and there had been no evidence of fighting, he added.

 

He said that despite scant communication, the 15 people were understood to be safe and had reacted in an "extremely professional way, in line with the rules of engagement".

 

"I look forward to seeing them on their return and congratulating them."

 

He said naval authorities were doing everything possible to ensure their safe return.

 

The Ministry of Defence said: "The group boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.

 

"We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level.

 

"The British government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment."

 

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett summoned the Iranian ambassador in London to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in an attempt to negotiate the men's release.

 

There has been no immediate response so far from Iran, where many ministries and official buildings were closed for a public holiday.

 

Liberal Democrats leader Sir Menzies Campbell also called for their immediate release.

 

The incident comes at a time of renewed tensions with Iran over its nuclear programme, which Western powers fear could be used to develop a nuclear weapon.

 

British Army Colonel Justin Maciejewski, who is based in Iraq, said most of the violence against UK forces in Basra is being engineered by Iranian elements.

 

Col Maciejewski said Iran was providing "sophisticated weaponry" to insurgents and "Iranian agents" were paying local men to attack British troops.

 

Iranian officials have in the past denied such claims.

 

In 2004, Iran detained eight British servicemen for three days after they allegedly strayed over the maritime border.

 

The UK claimed the men were "forcibly escorted" into Iranian territorial waters.

 

While they were being held, the men were paraded blindfold and made to apologise on Iranian TV before their release was agreed.

 

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins said the difference this time, and a cause of concern, is that the present Iranian government under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was much more hardline.

 

"The political climate is worse with Britain among those confronting Iran over its controversial nuclear programme," he added.

 

From Navy Times

 

Iran seizes 15 British sailors, Marines in Iraq

By Robert Barr - The Associated Press

Posted : Friday Mar 23, 2007 10:16:54 EDT

 

LONDON — Iranian naval vessels seized 15 British sailors who had boarded a ship suspected of smuggling cars in the Persian Gulf off the Iraqi coast on Friday, officials said.

 

The British government demanded “the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment.”

 

The British Navy personnel were “engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters,” and had completed a ship inspection when they were accosted by Iranian vessels, Britain’s Defense Ministry said.

 

“We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level and ... the Iranian ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office,” the ministry said.

 

The seizure comes at a time of rising tensions between Iran and the West, which accuses the Islamic republic of violating a U.N. call for it to halt uranium enrichment and open its nuclear program for inspection. It also comes amid U.S. accusations that Iran is funding and arming Shiite militias in Iraq, worsening sectarian tensions there.

 

The U.S., Britain’s chief ally, has built up its naval forces in the Gulf in a show of strength directed at Iran. Two American carriers, including the John C. Stennis — backed by a strike group with more than 6,500 sailors and Marines and with additional minesweeping ships — arrived in the region in recent months, ratcheting up tensions with Iran.

 

A Pentagon official said the Britons were in two inflatable boats from the frigate HMS Cornwall during a routine smuggling investigation, said the official, who spoke on condition on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the incident.

 

He said the confrontation happened as the British contingent was traveling along the boundary of territorial waters between Iran and Iraq. They were detained by the Revolutionary Guard’s navy after inspecting a merchant ship believed to be smuggling cars, he said.

 

A fisherman who said he was with a group of Iraqis from the southern city of Basra fishing in Iraqi waters in the northern area of the Gulf said he saw the Iranian seizure. The fisherman declined to be identified because of security concerns.

 

“Two boats, each with a crew of six to eight multinational forces, were searching Iraqi and Iranian boats Friday morning in Ras al-Beesha area in the northern entrance of the Arab Gulf, but big Iranian boats came and took the two boats with their crews to the Iranian waters,” he said.

 

In June 2004, six British marines and two sailors were seized by Iran in the Shatt al-Arab between Iran and Iraq. They were presented blindfolded on Iranian television and admitted entering Iranian waters illegally, then released unharmed after three days.

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From Jane's Navy International

 

23 March 2007

Iranian forces capture UK Royal Navy personnel

By Denise Hammick

 

Fifteen UK Royal Navy (RN) personnel have been detained at gunpoint inside Iraqi territorial waters by Iranian forces.

 

The four sailors and 11 marines attached to the Type 22 Batch 3 frigate HMS Cornwall, flagship of Combined Task Force 158, were engaged in routine boarding operations when the incident occurred, according to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).

 

The boarding party had completed a successful inspection of an unflagged dhow when "Iranian gunboats came over and seized them", said MoD spokesperson Captain Mike Davis-Marks.

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From Marine Corps Times

 

Iran questioning seized British crew

By Nasser Karimi - The Associated Press

Posted : Monday Mar 26, 2007 14:57:34 EDT

 

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said Monday it is interrogating 15 British sailors and marines to determine if their alleged entry into Iranian waters was “intentional or unintentional” before deciding what to do with them — a first, tentative sign it could be seeking a way out of the standoff.

 

The two countries continued to disagree about whether the sailors were in Iranian waters when they were captured, with Britain categorically saying they were not and Iran saying it has proof that they were.

 

So far it has been impossible to independently confirm where the sailors were, but the British Defense Ministry said they were seized in the Shatt al-Arab, the waterway flowing into the Gulf that marks the border between Iran and Iraq. But the exact path of the border in the waterway, known in Iran as the Arvand River, has long been disputed.

 

The Iranian emphasis on the sailors’ intent Monday was a noticeable deescalation from the certainty expressed Saturday by Iran’s military chief, Gen. Ali Reza Afshar. Afshar had said the 15 sailors had “confessed” to “aggression into the Islamic Republic of Iran’s waters.”

 

Other Iranian officials suggested afterward that the 15 might be charged with a crime — presumably espionage or trespassing — for knowingly entering Iranian territorial waters.

 

But Deputy Foreign Minister Mehzi Mostafavi said Monday that the 15 — 14 men and one woman — were still being interrogated.

 

“It should become clear whether their entry was intentional or unintentional. After that is clarified, the necessary decision will be made,” Mostafavi said.

 

Iran has refused to give an indication of the sailors’ whereabouts or to allow British officials to speak with them, but assured the British ambassador to Tehran, Geoffrey Adams, that they were in good health.

 

There were fears in Britain that the fate of the 15 could get caught up in the political tensions between Tehran and the West, including the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and accusations of Iranian help to Shiite militants in Iraq. In particular, there were worries Iran might seek to exchange the Britons for Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq.

 

Mostafavi denied Iran was seeking a trade, but there were powerful calls within Iran’s leadership for the government to hold out for a swap.

 

A Web site run by Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of the influential Expediency Council and a former Revolutionary Guard commander, quoted an unidentified lawmaker saying, “If Iranian diplomats in Iraq have no security, there’s no reason why we should forgive and turn a blind eye to aggressors into Iranian territories.”

 

Some members of the Iranian public also called for the British to be held and tried, with Iranian students turning out by the hundreds near the coast where the sailors were seized to urge an escalation in the confrontation with the West.

 

Britain sought to play down fears the situation could escalate and become intertwined with the nuclear and Iraq disputes.

 

“This is a matter that should be dealt with on its own merits,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s official spokesman said. The seizure of the crew was an issue to “be treated on its own, and that is how we are approaching it.”

 

Blair said Sunday he hoped the situation could be resolved in as diplomatic a way as possible, and his office stressed the British leader had been “very careful when he intervened,” mindful of the potential repercussions on other issues.

 

Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Baghdad that there was no connection between the capture of the sailors and other disputes between the West and Iran.

 

“They entered Iranian territorial waters and were arrested,” Qomi said. “It has nothing to do with other issues.” Mostafavi, the deputy foreign minister, also denied Iran was aiming for a prisoner swap.

 

The sailors and marines were intercepted Friday just after they completed a search of a civilian vessel in the Shatt al-Arab. The British Defense Ministry said they were in an Iraq-controlled area, but Iran insisted it had proof they were in Iranian waters.

 

A 1975 treaty between Iran and Iraq set the border as running down the center of the river, but Saddam Hussein cancelled the treaty before invading Iran in 1980. Iran claims the border runs along the deepest part of the river.

 

A U.N. diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation said the U.N. had not yet become involved and the issue was being handled in bilateral meetings between Iran and Britain.

 

The United States, under whose command the British sailors were serving when they were captured, Iraq and the European Union have called for the immediate release of the sailors.

 

On Monday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that the personnel were captured in Iraqi territorial waters, and called for their release.

 

Meanwhile, Iranian state television said that despite Iran’s decision to partially cut off cooperation with the U.N.’s nuclear inspection agency — a response to the U.N. Security Council’s vote Saturday to approve additional sanctions on Iran — it was open to negotiations.

 

“Iran looks at negotiations as the only solution to the nuclear case,” it said.

 

The U.N. sanctions were meant to send Tehran a strong message that its defiance would leave it increasingly isolated, and the U.S. has warned of even tougher penalties ahead.

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From DefenseNews

 

Posted 03/26/07 09:22

Britain Builds Pressure on Iran Over Naval Detainees

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, LONDON

 

Britain kept up pressure March 26 on Iran over the plight of 15 arrested naval personnel as its ambassador to Tehran met officials again to "press hard" for their release, the Foreign Office said.

Geoffrey Adams spent an hour at the ministry of foreign affairs in Tehran and was assured that the group was "fit and well and in Iran."

His second meeting with Iranian officials in two days came as Tehran signaled that they were being interrogated on charges of violating Iranian waters.

Shockwaves from the seizure, which Prime Minister Tony Blair has labeled "unjustified and wrong," continued to reverberate around the world.

With tensions rising in the region over both the group’s capture and Iran’s disputed nuclear program, oil prices rose to their highest levels this year — well above 62 dollars in Asian trade.

Iran announced March 25 that it would limit cooperation with the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, due to a fresh Security Council resolution on sanctions.

Media reports suggest that Iran could lodge charges against the 15 sailors and marines.

But Blair has stressed that the 14 men and one woman, who were seized March 23 and are thought to be in good health, were not in Iranian waters.

"The quicker it is resolved, the easier it is for all. But it is quite unjustified and wrong," Blair told reporters on the sidelines of European Union 50th anniversary celebrations in Berlin. "They were in Iraqi water. It is not true that they went into Iranian territorial waters."

Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari backed this up, saying in a statement that the personnel were detained inside Iraqi territorial waters.

The 15 sailors and marines, all based on the British warship HMS Cornwall, were seized in the Shatt al-Arab waterway that divides Iraq and Iran.

Britain says the group was conducting "routine" anti-smuggling operations and Iran has claimed the group admitted to illegally entering Iranian waters.

Iran’s ambassador to London has been summoned to the Foreign Office twice over the incident — once to meet a senior civil servant March 23 and again for talks with Foreign Office minister Lord David Triesman the following day.

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From Defense Aerospace

 

Detention of Royal Navy Personnel Unjustified and Wrong – PM

(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued March 25, 2007)

 

Prime Minister Tony Blair has expressed very serious concerns over the detention of fifteen Royal Navy personnel by Iranian Authorities in a statement today, 25 March 2007.

 

Speaking at a meeting of European heads of Government in Berlin, the Rt Hon Tony Blair MP said:

 

"I have not been commenting up to now on this because I want to get it resolved in as easy and diplomatic way as possible, because it's the welfare of the people concerned that have been taken by the Iranian Government that is most important.

 

"But this is a very serious situation and there is no doubt at all that these people were taken from a boat in Iraqi water, it simply is not true that they went into Iranian territorial waters. And I hope the Iranian Government understand how fundamental an issue this is for us. We've certainly sent those messages back to them very very clearly indeed.

 

"I hope that this can be resolved over the next few days but the quicker it is resolved the easier it will be for all of us. But they should not be under any doubt at all about how seriously we regard this act which was unjustified and wrong." (ends)

 

Government Demands Immediate and Safe Return of 15 British Personnel Seized by Iranian Navy

(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued March 23, 2007)

 

15 British naval personnel have been seized by Iranian naval vessels today, 23 March 2007.

 

The incident took place at approximately 1030 Iraqi time.

 

The British Personnel, eight personnel from the Royal Navy, and seven from the Royal Marines, were engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters in support of UNSCR 1723 and the government of Iraq.

 

Operating from HMS Cornwall, the UK boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.

 

We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level and on the instructions of the Foreign Secretary, the Iranian ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office.

 

The British Government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment.

 

Any speculation about what might happen or the way our people may be treated could be genuinely dangerous, and the MOD urges media to refrain from such speculation whilst the Government conducts its urgent discussions with the Iranian authorities.

 

Next-of-kin of all personnel seized have now been informed.

 

In the interests of protecting their anonymity at this difficult stage, we would ask all editors to refrain from publishing or broadcasting anything that could lead to even partial identification of any of the individuals involved.

 

The MOD has activated a helpline for concerned families. The number is 08457 800 900

 

Speaking to the press today, Royal Navy Commodore Nick Lambert, Commander of the coalition forces operating in the North Arabian Gulf, said:

 

"My immediate concern obviously is for my people. I've got 15 sailors and marines who've been arrested by the Iranians and my immediate concern is that their safety and that their safe return to me is ensured. And I can assure all of the families who are listening out there that everything is being done at the highest levels of the UK government and indeed of the coalition structure that we are working under to ensure that safe return is possible.

 

"I'm speculating to a certain extent; we know our helicopter reported that they saw the boats being moved up the Shatt-al-Arab waterway towards an Iranian base up there and we know that there was no fighting, there was no engagement, no weapons or anything like that; it was entirely peaceful and we've been assured from the scant communications that we've had from the Iranians at a tactical level that the 15 people are safely in their hands.

 

"I know that my people behaved in an extremely professional way, I've been out with the boarding parties on many occasions myself. Everything I've seen from the report of the situation suggested that they reacted in impeccable fashion, totally professional, entirely in line with the rules of engagement and the direction that I have given them. And I have to say that I'm extremely impressed with what they have done, and I look forward to seeing them on their return to the vessel."

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From Defence Talk

 

US Troops Would Have Defended Themselves Against Iran

Agence France-Presse | Mar 27, 2007

 

London: American naval personnel would have defended themselves against Iranian forces, who seized 15 British sailors and marines last week, were they faced with a similar situation, a US commander said in an interview published Monday. Speaking to The Independent daily, Lieutenant-Commander Erik Horner, second-in-command on the USS Underwood in the Gulf, said the British personnel had "every right in my mind every justification to defend themselves."

 

The 14 men and one woman seized on Friday by Iran were all based on the British warship HMS Cornwall, part of a British-controlled task force to the south of Iraq, of which the Underwood is also a part.

 

Asked by the newspaper whether the men under his command would have fired shots at the Iranians, Horner said: "Agreed. Yes."

 

"I don't want to second-guess the British after the fact but our rules of engagement allow a little more latitude. Our boarding team's training is a little bit more towards self-preservation.

 

"The unique US Navy rules of engagement say we not only have a right to self-defence but also an obligation to self-defence. They had every right in my mind every justification to defend themselves rather than allow themselves to be taken.

 

"Our reaction was, 'Why didn't your guys defend themselves?'"

 

But a senior British defence source told The Sun on Saturday: "They (the sailors) did the right thing. They were heavily outnumbered and outgunned. There was no point in putting up a fight. No shots were exchanged and from what we understand so far, none of our people have been harmed."

 

British authorities said Sunday they did not know where the personnel were being held but that Iranian officials told them the group were all in good health.

 

The eight British Royal Navy sailors and seven Royal Marines were seized in the Gulf waterway that divides Iraq and Iran.

 

Britain says the group was conducting "routine" anti-smuggling operations in Iraqi waters, but Iran said Saturday the group had admitted to illegally entering Iranian waters.

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From Navy Times

 

British admiral: Vessels were in Iraqi waters

Iran provided coordinates of sailors at time of capture, then revised them

By David Stringer - The Associated Press

Posted : Wednesday Mar 28, 2007 7:21:42 EDT

 

LONDON — Britain’s military said Wednesday that navy vessels were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when Iran seized 15 British crew members.

 

Vice Adm. Charles Style told reporters that the Iranians had provided a position on Sunday — a location that he said was in Iraqi waters.

 

By Tuesday, Iranian officials had given a revised position 2 miles east, placing the British inside Iranian waters — a claim he said was not verified by Global Positioning System coordinates.

 

“It is hard to understand a legitimate reason for this change of coordinates,” Style said.

 

Britain and the U.S. have said the sailors and marines were intercepted Friday after they completed a search of a civilian vessel in the Iraqi part of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where the border between Iran and Iraq has been disputed for centuries.

 

Iran has said that the 15 British sailors and marines were being treated well but refused to say where they were being held, or rule out the possibility that they could be brought to trial for allegedly entering Iranian waters.

 

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the case was following normal procedures, holding out the possibility that the Britons could be brought to trial.

 

He said the Britons were being treated well and that the only woman among the sailors, 26-year-old Faye Turney, had been given privacy.

 

“They are in completely good health. Rest assured that they have been treated with humanitarian and moral behavior,” Hosseini said.

 

In talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett demanded that British diplomats be allowed to meet with the crew to make their own assessment.

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From Navy Times

 

Coalition forces share risks in gulf patrols

Iranian capture of British sailors, Marines raises questions on rules of engagement

By Andrew Scutro - Staff writer

Posted : Tuesday Mar 27, 2007 19:07:45 EDT

 

The 15 British sailors and Marines captured by Iran on Friday could just as easily have been Americans — both navies, along with Australian forces, constantly patrol the contentious and confined waters of the northern Persian Gulf.

 

But Navy officials would not discuss the possibility that American forces might have resisted the Iranian sailors rather than face capture, after a U.S. Navy officer in the region was quoted talking about rules of engagement in a British newspaper.

 

“We do not talk [rules of engagement]. We just don’t,” said Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl, public affairs officer for the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

 

Allied forces continuously patrol the area of the north Persian Gulf in the area around Iraq’s two offshore oil pumping terminals while Iran maintains a regular naval presence in its nearby waters. But while Iran has a regular navy that maintains professional relations with coalition forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy generally has a more belligerent posture, according to officers who have operated in the area.

 

It was IRGCN forces who captured the British troops, according to Aandahl.

 

He said the British were operating in two rigid-hull inflatable boats, boarding commercial traffic in Iraqi territorial waters, a task coalition forces do regularly.

 

“They were conducting a compliant boarding of what we learned later was an Indian-registered ship,” he said. “The particular ship was of interest because it matched the description of a vehicle-smuggling ship.”

 

After a search, “nothing untoward” was found on the ship, but when the British sailors and Marines reboarded their boats, they were “swarmed” by six motor patrol boats from the IRGCN, he said.

 

In 2004, eight British sailors were captured and accused of crossing into Iranian waters in the waterway that borders Iraq known as the Shatt Al-Arab. They were later released.

 

But Aandahl said the incident Friday was not in the narrow channel between the two countries.

 

“They were in the gulf. They were not in the Shatt Al Arab waterway,” he said. “They were well within Iraqi territorial waters.”

 

The allies operate in the northern gulf under the designation Task Force 158. Command of the force is rotated among the coalition navies. It is now under command of a British commodore aboard the flagship HMS Cornwall. The captured sailors and Marines are members of the Cornwall crew.

 

Aandahal could not say how the situation escalated between the Iranian and British forces but he commended the allied sailors for their actions.

 

“I think the British boarding team demonstrated remarkable professional prudence and restraint in not escalating a bad situation and making it worse,” he said.

 

While U.S. forces are also in the area, Aandahl would not say what they did during the incident.

 

“We were aware of the situation as events were unfolding,” he said.

 

Meanwhile the U.S. has two carrier battle groups in the area, further to the south, with the John C. Stennis group inside the gulf and the Dwight D. Eisenhower group also in the region.

 

“We know the waters fairly well. The ships come in knowing where the ‘go’ and ‘no-go’ boundaries are,” he said. “This is not new territory for us.”

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From Defense Aerospace

 

MOD Briefing Shows Royal Navy Personnel Were In Iraqi Waters

(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued March 28, 2007)

 

The Ministry of Defence has presented evidence which shows that the fifteen personnel detained by Iranian authorities on Friday 23 March 2007 were operating in Iraqi waters when they were seized.

 

The briefing, at defence headquarters in London, was given by Vice Admiral Charles Style, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Commitments). Vice Admiral Style, who is responsible for providing strategic advice to operational commanders, explained in detail where the Royal Navy personnel were located when they were seized:

 

"The aim of this brief is to provide a factual account of the incident during which fifteen Royal Naval personnel were seized by the Iranians last Friday. By way of background, HMS CORNWALL was in charge of the coalition force, which - alongside the Iraqi Navy - is operating in the Northern Persian Gulf.

 

"This force maintains the sovereignty and integrity of Iraqi territorial waters under UN Security Council Resolution 1723, and with the approval of the Iraqi Government. The ship – and others in the coalition - maintain a presence patrolling there. They are also charged with protection of the Iraqi offshore oil infrastructure – economically very important - and the security of merchant vessels.

 

"On 23 March a boarding team consisting of seven Royal Marines and eight sailors - who were embarked in two of HMS CORNWALL's boats - conducted a routine boarding of an Indian flagged Merchant Vessel which was cooperative throughout. They investigated this vessel after witnessing her unloading cars into two barges secured alongside. Since early March the force has conducted 66 routine boardings. So the one that I'm talking about was entirely routine business, and conducted in a particular area where four other boardings have been completed recently.

 

"As shown on the chart, the merchant vessel was 7.5 nautical miles south east of the Al Faw Peninsula and clearly in Iraqi territorial waters. Her master has confirmed that his vessel was anchored within Iraqi waters at the time of the arrest. The position was 29 degrees 50.36 minutes North 048 degrees 43.08 minutes East. This places her 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi territorial waters. This fact has been confirmed by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

 

"The Iranian government has provided us with two different positions for the incident. The first we received on Saturday and the second on Monday. As this map shows, the first of these points still lies within Iraqi territorial waters. We pointed this out to them on Sunday in diplomatic contacts.

 

"After we did this, they then provided a second set of coordinates that places the incident in Iranian waters over two nautical miles from the position given by HMS CORNWALL and confirmed by the merchant vessel. The two Iranian positions are just under a nautical mile apart – 1800 yards or so. It is hard to understand a reason for this change of coordinates. We unambiguously contest both the positions provided by the Iranians.

 

"I should just explain at this point that the boats remained connected at this point. One of the seaboats was connected via data link, which communicated its position continually to the ship where it was displayed, superimposed on an electronic chart, on a purpose built console. During the boarding this console was constantly monitored and indicated, throughout, that the boats had remained well within Iraqi territorial waters.

 

"Our boarding started at 0739 local time and was completed at 0910 with the merchant vessel having been cleared to continue with her business. Communications were lost with the boarding team as the boarding was finishing … at 0910. HMS CORNWALL's Lynx helicopter, which had been covering the initial stages of the boarding, immediately returned to the scene to locate the boarding team.

 

"The helicopter reported that the two seaboats were being escorted by Iranian Islamic Republican Guard Navy vessels towards the Shatt 'Al Arab Waterway and were now inside Iranian territorial waters. Debriefing of the helicopter crew and a conversation with the master of the merchant ship both indicate that the boarding team were ambushed while disembarking from the merchant vessel. Both boats were equipped with a GPS chart plotter.

 

"On Sunday morning, 25 March, HMS CORNWALL's Lynx conducted an overflight of the merchant vessel, which was still at anchor, and once again confirmed her location on Global Positioning System equipment. Her Master confirmed that his vessel had remained at anchor since Friday, and was in Iraqi territorial waters.

 

"Ladies and Gentlemen, my primary message is clear. HMS CORNWALL with her boarding party was going about her legal business – in Iraqi Territorial waters, under a United Nations Security Council Resolution, with the explicit approval of the Iraqi government.

 

"The action by Iranian forces in arresting and detaining our people is unjustified and wrong. As such it is a matter of deep concern to us and the families of the people who have been taken. We continue not only to call for their safe, but for their safe and speedy, return, and we continue to seek immediate consular access to them as a prelude to their release."

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From Navy Times

 

Iran pledges not to run more sailor videos

The Associated Press

Posted : Monday Apr 2, 2007 7:40:02 EDT

 

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s state-run radio cited what it called “positive changes” in Britain’s negotiating stance Monday and said because of those, television stations would not broadcast additional videos of British sailors’ confessions.

 

The state-run radio did not detail what it meant by positive changes, nor quote any officials by name. A state-run TV station had said earlier Monday that all 15 British sailors and marines held captive by the country had confessed to illegally entering Iranian waters.

 

The 15 Britons were detained by Iranian naval units March 23 while patrolling for smugglers as part of a U.N.-mandated force monitoring the Persian Gulf. They were seized by Iranian naval units near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway that has long been a disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran.

 

Iran has repeatedly said it was trying to determine the intent of the British personnel before deciding what to do with them, and has demanded an apology from Britain as a condition of their release.

 

Britain contends the sailors were in Iraqi waters and has said it would not apologize.

 

The Iran Broadcasting Company said Monday the 15 alleged confessions would not be broadcast on Iranian news stations, however, due to what it called a change in the British government’s negotiating policies. The state-run agency did not provide any further details as to what it meant by that.

 

The British government has deplored the airing on state-run TV of four of the sailors’ confessions so far, saying they appeared to be coerced.

 

Iran’s ambassador to Moscow had said on Sunday the sailors’ case had entered a “legal phase,” but backtracked from earlier remarks attributed to him that the sailors could be tried.

 

The alleged admissions of intrusion into Iranian territorial waters are not new: Iran’s military chief had said the day after their capture that the sailors had confessed after interrogations to illegally entering Iranian waters.

 

Al-Alam, Iran’s Arabic-language state television station, has also broadcast video footage of four of the 15 saying they were in Iranian waters at the time of their capture. On Sunday, that footage included two of the sailors who used maps to show the alleged location where they were surrounded and seized by Iranian military vessels.

 

Britain says the sailors were in Iraqi waters operating under a U.N. mandate, and has released its own maps and Global Positioning System coordinates showing their locations.

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From Navy Times

 

Iranian negotiator: No need to try Britons

Seeks diplomatic resolution to captured sailor crisis

The Associated Press

Posted : Tuesday Apr 3, 2007 6:05:57 EDT

 

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s chief international negotiator said Monday that the country wants to resolve the crisis over 15 captured British sailors through diplomacy and there is no need to put the crew on trial.

 

In London, an official said earlier that Britain has agreed to consider discussing with Iran how to avoid future disputes over contested waters in the Persian Gulf.

 

Ali Larijani, the Iranian diplomat, said his country’s priority “is to solve the problem through proper diplomatic channels.”

 

“We are not interested in letting this issue get further complicated,” he told Britain’s Channel 4 television news.

 

Britain contends the sailors were in Iraqi waters, however, and has refused Iranian demands for an apology. It has also criticized the airing of footage of four of the sailors confessing so far, saying the statements appeared coerced and the broadcasting of captured military personnel violated international norms.

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New York Times

April 4, 2007

Pg. 5

 

Seizure Of Britons Underlines Iran's Political Split

 

By Michael Slackman

 

CAIRO, April 3 — Behind the seesaw crisis of Iran’s detention of 15 British sailors and marines lies an internal Iranian struggle pitting radicals, aligned with the president, against more pragmatic officials concerned about the country’s growing isolation.

 

The capture of the Britons initially showed the rising dominance of the president and his allies, specifically the Revolutionary Guards, whereas a move toward finding a diplomatic solution is a sign that the pragmatists are pushing back.

 

Ali Larijani, the head of the Supreme National Security Council, is a leading pragmatist. On Tuesday, he spoke on state television and suggested that an end to the crisis could be in sight: “The British government has begun its diplomatic negotiations with Iran’s Foreign Ministry in a bid to resolve the issue of British sailors and marines. If these talks go ahead on a logical path, they can change the ongoing conditions and put an end to the dispute.”

 

Conservative students from Imam Sadiq University, owned by the Revolutionary Guards, have condemned Mr. Larijani for saying there was no need to put the British sailors, who were seized March 23, on trial. “Releasing the British military personnel without a trial is doubtlessly a big error which the Iranian nation would never pardon,” they wrote in a statement carried by the ISNA news agency.

 

“You must know that the Iranian nation hates the British government due to the history of the Old Fox’s anti-Iranian conspiracies,” the students wrote, using a nickname for Britain. “You should not back down in the face of the historical enemy of Iran.”

 

The difference between the sides may be a matter more of style than substance, since both support Iran’s drive for nuclear technology and harbor deep distrust of Britain. The seesaw generally tips toward the side bringing the system its greatest benefits.

 

When an attempt to build confidence in its nuclear program failed to win concessions from Europe, Iran grew confrontational and started its nuclear fuel enrichment program. When direct challenges to the West did not produce retaliation, support for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was high. And when constant caustic remarks by Mr. Ahmadinejad appeared to be undermining support for Iran’s nuclear program, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pushed the president away from the nuclear issue.

 

That emphasis on results may well explain the lowering of voices coming from Tehran. “Confronting an aggressor is of course a necessity and national glory,” wrote Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former vice president, in his blog, Webneveshteha.com.

 

Mr. Abtahi, who served under Muhammad Khatami, a reform-minded president, wrote, “But it will be more in Iran’s interest than Britain’s if this crisis is over by diplomatic means as soon as possible.”

 

It is only in the past few days that critics of the president have felt confident enough to speak out, no matter how tempered the criticism.

 

“What they are doing with the sailors will not benefit Iran and it will even worsen the international conditions for the Islamic Republic,” said Mohammad-Reza Jalaipour, a sociologist and former government official, in a telephone interview.

 

The divide over the current crisis with Britain also seems to expose divisions within each political approach. President Ahmadinejad has not had the support of so-called hard-liners in Parliament since shortly after his election in 2005. Parliament initially challenged the president on his selection of ministers, and has often criticized his budget.

 

It appears to be more a conflict driven by so-called hard-liners within the Revolutionary Guards, who are aligned with the president and who have seen their political and economic influence grow since his election. When he took office, Mr. Ahmadinejad moved to create a new political class, relying mostly on former members of the Revolutionary Guards, analysts in Iran said.

 

He turned to men whose views were shaped during their service in the Guards in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, men who hewed very closely to the ideological ideas of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and were determined to roll back the modest social and political reforms of President Khatami, which they saw as a dilution of the revolution.

 

“They have a political and security role, huge financial resources and assets that are not listed in the country’s budget, and manage the country’s nuclear program,” said Mehdi Chehade, a professor of political science at the Lebanese University in Beirut, who often writes on Iran. “These elements combined helped these ultra-conservatives emerge as today’s main power in Iran.”

 

The president has traveled around the country ordering up local construction jobs, then giving the work to the engineering branch of the Guards. Experts in Iran said the Guards could not handle all the work and would then subcontract the projects out, taking a percentage for simply passing the job off.

 

Shortly after the eight British sailors and seven marines were seized in what Iran says were its territorial waters, and what Britain says were Iraqi waters, it quickly became clear that the Guards were in command. Foreign Ministry officials said privately in Tehran that they were not consulted and at one point had no idea even where the sailors and marines were being detained.

 

The Guards, unlike the army, have a primarily ideological mandate as the guardian of the revolution. They were created by Ayatollah Khomeini shortly after the revolution in 1979 to serve as the ideological muscle behind a system looking to secure itself while unsure of the loyalty of the police and the military.

 

That initial mandate has for decades allowed the Guards to operate free from most political oversight and to evolve as one of the most independent centers of power, loyal only to the supreme leader.

 

The Guards established their own weapons procurement system and their own army, air force and navy. In 2000 they was estimated to have a force of about 120,000 divided into about 15 divisions, working in 11 regions around the country. They also see their mandate as including the export of revolutionary ideas, and helped to build Hezbollah, the Shiite militia in southern Lebanon.

 

When Mr. Ahmadinejad was first elected nearly two years ago, Iranian political analysts said his victory did not represent the rise of hard-liners as much as it did the militarization of the system of governance. It is unclear if the president or the supreme leader knew about the seizure of the Britons in advance.

 

But since it occurred, it has been used to rally Mr. Ahmadinejad’s base at a time when his support seemed to be fraying. The president, elected on a platform of economic populism, promising a redistribution of the state’s vast oil wealth, has been sharply criticized for failing to deliver on his economic promises.

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Iran to free seized British sailors

Ahmadinejad says 15 sailors, marines to be released as a 'gift' to U.K.

BREAKING NEWS

The Associated Press

Updated: 9:22 a.m. ET April 4, 2007

TEHRAN, Iran - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday that his government would release the detained 15 British sailors and marines as a gift to the British people.

 

He pardoned the sailors and announced their release minutes after he gave medals of honor to the Iranian coast guards who intercepted the sailors and marines, saying Iran will never accept trespassing of its territorial waters.

 

"On behalf of the great Iranian people, I want to thank the Iranian Coast Guard who courageously defended and captured those who violated their territorial waters, the president told a press conference.

 

He then interrupted his speech and pinned medals on the chests of three Coast Guard officers involved in capturing the British sailors and marines in the northern Gulf on March 23.

 

"We are sorry that British troops remain in Iraq and their sailors are being arrested in Iran," Ahmadinejad said.

 

He criticized Britain for deploying Leading Seaman Faye Turney, one of the 15 detainees, in the Gulf, pointing out that she is a woman with a child.

 

"How can you justify seeing a mother away from her home, her children? Why don't they respect family values in the West?" he asked of the British government.

 

Ahmadinejad regularly rails against the West, and the crisis has developed at a time when Iran is also embroiled in a row over its nuclear ambitions. The West says Iran wants atomic bombs but Tehran denies this.

 

Please check back for more details on this developing story.

 

article here.

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"... Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday that his government would release the detained 15 British sailors and marines as a gift to the British people. "

 

Umm, yeah. The "thank you" note from the British people is in the mail, buddy. I am interested in what these sailors and marines will have to say about their "gracious host" once they are safely home. <_<

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Now that the "crisis" appears to be winding down (insert proverbial knock on wood here), here's an interesting analysis piece from the folks at Stratfor:

 

The British Detainees: Reading Diplomatic Signals

By George Friedman

 

Last week, Iranian forces captured 15 British sailors and marines in the Shatt al-Arab area, where the territorial distinction between Iraq and Iran is less than clear. The Iranians claimed the British personnel were in Iranian territory; the British denied it. The claims and counterclaims are less interesting than the fact that the Iranians clearly planned the capture: Whatever the British were doing in the area, the Iranians knew about it and had plans to do something in response. The questions are why, and why is this occurring now?

 

One explanation is that the British were on some sort of mission that the Iranians had to stop. A rumor circulating is that the British were involved in extracting an Iranian defector, and the Iranians were moving to block the defection. That's a possibility, but then the captured Britons hardly appeared to be operating as a covert team -- and if there was a defection under way, the secret had been blown a long time before, since the Iranians were able to amass the force used in the capture.

 

It seems to us that the capture of the British had less to do with any particular operation than with a more general desire on the part of the Iranians to capture the personnel and thereby create an international incident. The important issue, therefore, is why they wanted an incident, and why this particular sort.

 

By now, it is no secret that the Americans and Iranians are engaged in a complex negotiation that is focused on Iraq, but which also involves Iran's future nuclear capability. U.S. and Iranian officials met publicly in early March, and a further meeting is scheduled, but the most important discussions have taken place in private venues. It also is clear that there is a debate within Tehran, as well as within Washington, as to whether these talks should be going on, how the negotiations should be carried out and the role of force in the negotiations. We suspect that the capture of the British detainees had something to do with the U.S. negotiations and with internal Iranian politics.

 

At this point, both sides in the negotiations are trying to impress upon each other not only that they retain some options, but also that their moves cannot be easily predicted. Both want to be seen as retaining the option of surprise. The capture of the British personnel, then, should be read not so much as the trigger for an international crisis as a diplomatic signal. If either the Americans or the Iranians believed it were possible to achieve their own ideal outcomes in negotiations, either the capture or the U.S. military surge into Iraq would not have come about. The game for each now is an effort to secure an outcome that can be lived with -- not an outright victory.

 

U.S. Signals and Limitations

 

The U.S. approach to the negotiations with Iran has been multifaceted.

• First, by talking simultaneously with the Sunni insurgents, the Americans clearly have been letting the Iranians know that they have not been trapped into dealing only with the Iranians or Iraqi Shia when it comes to the future of Iraq.

 

• Second, Washington has tried to keep the Iranian nuclear issue separate from the Iraq issue. Given that none of the world's great powers truly has an interest in seeing Iran get the bomb, Washington has international backing on some aspects of the Iran nuclear issue -- and does not want that confused with the question of Iraq, where support for its position is much weaker. Washington does not want to provide the Iranians with linkage between the issues; rather, it wants to maintain its ability to extract concessions over Iraq in exchange for concessions on the nuclear issue.

 

• Third, and most important, the U.S. leadership consistently has emphasized that it has no fear of Iran and is not constrained politically or militarily. The entire objective of the U.S. surge strategy was to demonstrate that the administration retains military options in Iraq and is capable of using them. At the same time, the United States has carefully orchestrated a campaign to let the Iranians believe that it retains military options against Iran as well -- and is considering using them. The exercises by two U.S. carrier battle groups last week had been planned for quite a while and were designed to give the Iranians pause.

 

• Finally, the United States has moved to arrest Iranian officials who had been operating quasi-diplomatic entities in Iraq. (The Iranians said they were diplomatic and the Americans said they weren't, so we will term them "quasi.")

 

 

Rumors of imminent U.S. military action against Iran have swept the region. Totally uninformed sources around the world have been speculating for weeks about the possibility of unspecified U.S. action. The rumors suited the Bush administration perfectly. The administration wanted the Iranians to feel endangered, so as to shape the Iranian negotiating process. This has certainly been the case amid congressional action to set a deadline for a withdrawal from Iraq. If the Americans are going to withdraw, then Iran has no motivation to negotiate; it need only wait. The administration played off the congressional proposals to hint that the possibility of a forced deadline increases the pressure for the president to act quickly, rather than to wait.

 

The problem for the United States, however, is the issue of what sort of action it actually can take. It is in no position to undertake a ground invasion of Iran. Iran is a big country, and occupying it is beyond the capability of any force the United States could field -- at least, not without a massive increase of ground forces that would take several years to achieve, and that certainly is not under way at the moment.

 

The other option is an air campaign. And it is not clear that an air campaign would work. The example of Israel's failure in Lebanon last summer weighs heavily. The Israelis chose the air campaign option and failed to achieve a satisfactory outcome. The U.S. Army historically has seen the air campaign as useful only if it is followed by an effective occupation. The most successful air campaign, Desert Storm, worked in a much smaller battle-box than Iran, and was followed up by a multidivisional ground force in order to defeat the defending Iraqi force and occupy the territory. In Iran, the quantity of air power needed for an outcome similar to that in Kuwait in 1991 is substantially greater than the United States has available, and as we have said, there is no follow-on ground force capable of occupying Iran.

 

The Iranian Signals

 

The Iranians, like the Americans, also have found it necessary to demonstrate a lack of intimidation. And for Iran, capturing 15 British sailors and marines was an excellent device. First, it raised the specter in the United States of another Iranian hostage crisis, reminding Bush of how the Iranians handled Jimmy Carter in 1979. Second, it showed that Iran is not concerned about possible retaliation by either the United States or the United Kingdom -- which has no options independent of the United States and is not driving negotiations over Iraq. Finally, the fact that action was directed against the British, rather than the Americans, slightly deflected the intensity of the crisis; because Americans were not taken captive, there was less pressure for the United States to do something about it.

 

But there is another dimension to this. The Iranians have shifted the spotlight away from Baghdad and to the southern region of Iraq -- to the area dominated by Shia and held by the British. The capture of the British personnel coincided with some fighting in the Basra area among Shiite militias.

 

In this way, the Iranians have sent two signals.

 

The first was that while the United States is concentrating its forces in Baghdad and Anbar province, Iran remains perfectly capable of whipping up a crisis in the relatively quiet south -- where U.S. troops are not present and where the British, who already have established a timeline for withdrawal, might not have sufficient force to contain a crisis. If the United States had to inject forces into the south at this point, they would have to come from other regions of Iraq or from the already strained reserve forces in the United States. The Iranians are indicating that they can create some serious political and military problems for the United States if Washington becomes aggressive.

The second is a statement about the negotiations over Iraq. While they are interested in reaching a comprehensive settlement over Iraq, the Iranians are prepared to contemplate another outcome, in which Iraq fragments into regional entities and the Iranians dominate the Shiite south. In some ways, this is more than an acceptable alternative. For one thing, in holding the south, the Iranians would be in a position to impede or cut U.S. lines of supply running from Kuwait to central Iraq. Second, their forces would be in a position to bring pressure to bear on Saudi Arabia, unless the United States were to redeploy troops.

 

In other words, the shift of attention to the south poses a worrisome military challenge to the Americans. If the Iranians or Shia were to get aggressive in the south, the United States could be forced to spread its troops even thinner, leaving operations in the north severely weakened. The maneuver could help to collapse the Americans' position in Iraq by overloading them with responsibilities.

 

Call, Raise -- Draw?

 

The Iranians have called the American hand and raised the stakes. Where the United States has been trying to generate a sense of danger on the part of Iran with rumors of airstrikes, the Iranians have signaled that they aren't worried about the airstrikes -- and then raised the American bet by forcing the United States to consider what its options might be if all hell broke loose in southern Iraq. Tehran is saying that it has more credible options than Washington does.

 

There is obviously a political debate going on inside Iran. As we have argued, there is deep consensus among Iranian leaders as to what outcome they want, but there is a faction led by older leaders, like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, that does not underestimate the resources of the United States. And there is a faction that argues that the United States, at its weakest, must be pressured until it capitulates. The capture of the British personnel could have been designed to enhance the power of the more aggressive faction. But because Iranian politics are opaque, it could be argued just as logically that the capture was designed to enhance Rafsanjani's position by setting up a game of "good cop, bad cop." In other words, Rafsanjani now can ask for concessions from the Americans to keep the other faction from going too far.

 

Whatever the inner workings of the Iranian elite, the move strengthens Iran's negotiating position in a number of ways.

 

By holding the British captives, the Iranians are also trying to show the limits of Anglo-American power to their own public. One of the motives behind the capture was to demonstrate to Iranians that the Americans are incapable of taking action against Iran. (The British were less important in this context because they never were viewed by Tehran as being capable of or interested in decisive action against Iran.) The capture of the detainees, then, solidifies Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's position by revealing American weakness. If the United States and the United Kingdom don't rescue the prisoners and don't take other military action, holding the detainees increases the credibility of the Iranian leadership -- not only in relation to the Americans, but also with the Iranian public.

 

The logic here would call for a rescue attempt. However, in order for the captives to be rescued, the following elements are required:

 

1. Intelligence on the captives' location must be perfect, to the point of providing information on their precise housing.

 

2. The hostages cannot be housed in multiple locations; otherwise, the operation becomes both more complicated and more likely to fail, unless timing is perfect.

 

3. There must be time to rehearse the extraction, during which the prisoners must not be moved.

 

4. There must be a light covering force protecting the direct guards. The involvement of heavily armed, trained and dispersed troops at the battalion level and above, equipped with anti-aircraft systems, makes a successful extraction very unlikely.

 

The Iranians are old hands at this game. We can assume that they have:

 

1. Obfuscated the location of the British by communications deception and other means, while moving the detainees around.

 

2. Separated the detainees into at least three groups, one very small and remote from the other two.

 

3. Obscured the sites where the British are being held, in order to make model construction and rehearsals impossible.

 

4. Covered the detainees with an interior group of guards embedded in a multi-brigade matrix, with heavy anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile concentrations. Preparatory airstrikes by American or British forces would give away the extraction and force an abort.

 

That leaves the United States with the option of either accepting the status quo or initiating air operations against Iran. Now, the Iranian countermove -- creating chaos in southern Iraq -- seems daunting, but the Iranians might not have the influence in the region they would like others to believe: The Iraqi Shia are highly fragmented. But on the other hand, the Iranians do not have to impose a stable regime in southern Iraq right now. All they have to do is create instability there in order to weaken the Americans.

 

It comes down to the question of how lucky the U.S. leadership is feeling at the moment. Given past performance, we'd say George W. Bush is not a lucky man. If it can go wrong, it does go wrong for him. Symbolic airstrikes against Iran are conceivable, but an extended air campaign designed to smash Iran's infrastructure simply does not appear to us as a viable military option. Given Iran's size, the number of sorties designed to make a dent would be enormous. The Americans would be banking on frightening the Iranians into negotiation. Air power did that in Kosovo, against a country fighting for a peripheral interest. In Vietnam, it failed. Iran seems more like Vietnam than Serbia.

 

Therefore, we expect the United States to signal military action against Iran but not take it. We also expect the private talks between Iran and the United States to proceed with some sobriety. The Iranians know they have a weaker hand than it appears. Taking 15 captives is, in the end, not all that impressive by itself, and the rest hasn't played out yet. Thus, the saber-rattling will continue. That's what negotiations look like in the Middle East.

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