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Another equally interesting analysis piece from Stratfor:


The British Detainees: Why a Rescue Attempt was Never in the Cards

By Fred Burton


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said April 4 that the 15 British sailors and marines captured March 23 in the area around the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway would be released. Although it is unclear at this point just what deal was made to secure their freedom, it is apparent that Iran instigated the drama for much the same reason it held 52 American hostages for 444 days following the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by radical students in 1979. Both events were meant to demonstrate the power of Iran's hard-liners, not only to the Iranian public but also to the West and the rest of the world.


As the stalemate between the British and the Iranians dragged on for nearly two weeks, many Stratfor readers wrote in to suggest that a rescue operation should be undertaken. In this case, however, seeking a diplomatic solution was always the most logical approach.


Although the rescue operation authorized by U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1979 ended badly for the United States, the British Special Air Service (SAS) and its U.S. counterparts are far better prepared than they were back then -- and they could have avoided most of the mistakes made during "Desert One." That said, however, the Iranians are experts at hiding hostages for long periods, and there certainly was no guarantee that a rescue attempt would have succeeded. Therefore, it was indeed just speculation that one would have been attempted.


The SAS and American operators have conducted hundreds of successful missions in the region, both during the 1991 Gulf War and following the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. They are better equipped than ever before and, with their skills honed to a razor's edge by repeated combat deployments and many successful missions, they perhaps are at their highest level of proficiency.


However, this was not the Iranians' first rodeo when it comes to holding captives, and they undoubtedly would have taken measures to thwart any rescue attempt. While some of these measures would have been military, the most important ones would have been in the realm of intelligence. The Iranians understand that intelligence drives any rescue mission and that by denying the British the required intelligence, they could prevent a rescue attempt from ever getting off the ground.


Naturally, the British (and the Americans) will have focused a tremendous amount of effort and resources on determining where the British personnel were being held. While this case is reminiscent of the 1979 crisis in some ways, when it comes to thwarting intensive intelligence efforts to locate a small group of detainees, it is perhaps more relevant to look back to the Lebanon hostage-taking crisis of the 1980s. During that period, the Iran-guided Hezbollah operation thwarted intensive U.S. efforts to collect the tactical intelligence required to mount a rescue attempt for nearly a decade.


Ali the Iranian


Hezbollah is intimately connected to Iran. The organization was created by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the 1980s as a vehicle to export the ideals of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini's Islamic Revolution to Lebanon's Shiite community. Since then, Iran has been Hezbollah's chief source of funding and weapons, and the Iranians also provide extensive training in weapons, tactics, communications, surveillance, intelligence and other methods to Hezbollah's militant wing in Lebanon.


Because of this relationship, the Iranians were intimately involved in Hezbollah's operations to abduct Western hostages in Lebanon -- and to hold them for prolonged periods of time. In fact, some of the hostages were even held at locations clearly associated with Iran's IRGC, such as the Sheikh Abdullah Barracks in Baalbek, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.


This linkage to Iran was clearly displayed in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which sales and transfers of arms to Iran led to the release of hostages, including Benjamin Weir in 1985 and David Jacobson and Father Lawrence Jenco in 1986. However, this Iranian involvement in the keeping of Western hostages in Lebanon was perhaps best personified by a Persian who came to be known as "Ali the Iranian."


During the debriefings of the Western hostages held in Lebanon, it was learned that many of the hostages had seen the same short, chubby bearded chap -- a man the debriefers nicknamed "Ali the Iranian." The uncanny similarity between the sketches made of this man during the debriefing process, as he was described by hostages held at different times and in different locations, demonstrated Ali's prolonged involvement in the episode.


When Ali would come to visit the locations where the hostages were being held, he was treated with great reverence and respect by the guards, and a few of the hostages even characterized his visits as "inspections." Also, due to the timing of his visits, it is believed that Ali was involved in overseeing prisoner movement, monitoring their treatment and approving the sites where they were held.


Because of his function, the U.S. interagency task force assigned to locate the hostages (part of which involved debriefing former hostages) came to the conclusion that Ali was an Iranian intelligence officer who worked very closely with Imad Fayez Mugniyah, the man responsible for Hezbollah's intelligence and counterintelligence activities. Mugniyah is believed to have directed the kidnappings of the Westerners in Lebanon and to have been involved in the efforts to guard them and to thwart any U.S. rescue efforts.


Tactical Lessons from Lebanon


From the debriefings of the Western hostages in Beirut, much was learned about the tactics used by Mugniyah and Hezbollah to keep U.S. intelligence off balance during the decade-long hostage crisis.


First, Hezbollah did not keep all of its eggs in one basket -- it kept the hostages split up. While some were kept in groups, they were never all held together in the same location. The high-value targets, such as CIA station chief William Buckley and Marine Col. William Higgins, were held and interrogated separately. Buckley was moved to the same location as one of the small groups shortly before his death, but he was gravely ill at the time of his transfer and had clearly been severely tortured and badly abused during his solitary captivity.


The hostages also were kept in a number of different environments, including the basement of a military barracks, a secret compartment under a barn and an apartment in a high-rise building in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Sometimes the hostages were kept in absolute darkness, while at other times they were kept in a more congenial atmosphere where they were given light and reading material. Regardless of the conditions, however, the hostages were well-secured and carefully watched by guards armed with assault rifles and pistols. At times, the hostages were chained to the radiator in a room in an apartment building, and at other times they were locked in cells that measured just 16 square feet and were 4 feet high (which was particularly tough for 6-foot-7-inch Briton Terry Waite.) While captives Charlie Glass and Jerry Levin successfully escaped, other escape attempts were foiled and resulted in merciless beatings.


The hostages were almost always held in an area surrounded by Hezbollah sympathizers -- people who could warn of surveillance by Western intelligence, provide early warning on preparation for rescue attempts and help deter escape attempts and recapture escaped hostages.


Hezbollah also moved the hostages around, especially following the release of a hostage or another event that could serve to compromise their location. The hostages were nearly always moved under cover of darkness, and they frequently were bundled like mummies and wrapped in cloth or tape. This not only made escape difficult, but would also make it impossible for any accidental bystander to identify them. At times, the bundled hostages would be moved in the trunk of a car, or even hidden in trucks with secret compartments (presumably used at other times for smuggling arms and other illicit goods.)


These measures (along with the U.S. government's paucity of human sources in Lebanon and over-reliance on signals intelligence) meant that the United States could never gather hard intelligence on the locations of all the hostages at any one time. Without the ability to get U.S. "eyes on" the different detention sites simultaneously, no U.S. rescue mission could be launched. U.S. eyes were needed for verification because the United States could not run the risk of being lured into a trap by bad intelligence -- a trap in which American service personnel could be killed or captured and the disaster made even worse.


Tactical Reality Today


One stark difference between the situations in Lebanon in the past and in Iran today is that the conditions and circumstances under which the Britons are being held is different. The British detainees are being held by an acknowledged government, not a nonstate actor like Hezbollah. Certainly, the captors moved the detainees to various locations, keeping security around them tight and compelling them to make statements to the media. The detainees, however, were not tortured or otherwise intentionally traumatized. Iran could not have afforded for its former captives to tell stories to the media about being chained to radiators and kept in tiger cages. It also could not have them relate stories about being wrapped as mummies and shoved in false compartments of trucks. Also, there was never any indication that the Iranians meant for this captivity to last for months or years.


That said, while many of the specific tactics used by Iran's proteges in Lebanon could not be used during the most recent situation, many of the broad principles could have applied, and these principles would have assisted the Iranians in keeping British intelligence efforts off balance -- should they have chosen to prolong this drama.


Iran is far larger than Lebanon, and Tehran is several times farther from the sea than any point in Lebanon. As witnessed during Desert One in 1979, even getting a rescue team to Tehran can be difficult. The terrain, however, was just one of the obstacles. The IRGC, which captured the British personnel, is far larger and better-equipped than Hezbollah -- not to mention the rest of the Iranian military, police and the MOIS -- and the Iranians are far better trained, equipped and organized than they were in 1979 or Hezbollah was in the 1980s.


Based on these considerations, the conditions under which the detainees have been kept, the risk associated with a rescue operation and the difficulty in collecting the intelligence necessary to launch a rescue attempt in the first place -- a diplomatic, negotiated settlement to the case was always in the cards.

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From Defense Aerospace


Prime Minister Welcomes News of Sailors' Release

(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued April 5, 2007)


The Prime Minister Tony Blair has welcomed the news that the 15 Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel detained by Iranian authorities since Friday 23 March 2007 are to be released and returned to the UK.


In a short statement to reporters outside No. 10 Downing Street, Mr Blair said:


"I am glad that our 15 Service personnel have been released. I know their release will come as a profound relief not just to them but to their families that have endured such distress and anxiety over these past 12 days. Throughout we have taken a measured approach; firm but calm. Not negotiating, but not confronting either.


"I would like to thank our allies in Europe, our allies in the United Nations Security Council for their support, and also our friends and allies in the region, who played their part; we are grateful to all of them as we are to the officials in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence and here in Downing Street for the work that they have done.


"And, to the Iraninan people I would simply say this: We bear you no ill will. On the contrary we respect Iran as an ancient civilisation, as a nation with a proud and dignified history, and the disagreements that we have with your government we wish to resolve peacefully, through dialogue. I hope, as I have always hoped, that we are able to do so."


The 15 personnel, eight 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. The personnel are expected to return to the UK tomorrow, Thursday 5 April 2007.


Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne added:


"I welcome this news. It must be a tremendous relief for our people who have been held in Iran – they have acted with great dignity throughout. It is vital that we get them back home quickly and safely so they can be reunited with their families and loved ones – that is our priority now." (ends)


Release of British Sailors Leaves Unanswered Questions

(Source: Voice of America news; issued April 5, 2007)


WASHINGTON --- The end of the standoff between Britain and Iran still leaves many questions unanswered. Chief among them is why Iran took such a deliberately provocative action as seizing British sailors and marines. Many analysts believe the heart of the matter lies in the struggle between Iran and the United States for influence in Iraq and the Middle East.


In January, U.S. forces arrested five Iranian men in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil. On March 23, Iran seized 15 British sailors and marines in the Persian Gulf.


On Wednesday, Iranian President announced he was, to use his term, pardoning the 15 captured British service members for what Tehran claims was a violation of Iranian territorial waters. Meanwhile, Iran's official news agency, Irna, says an envoy will meet with the Iranians detained in Irbil in January, whom the U.S. says Tehran sent to Iraq to support militants. Iran says they are diplomats.


Also, on Tuesday, an Iranian diplomat held in Baghdad by unidentified gunmen was suddenly freed.


U.S., British, and Iraqi officials disavow any connection between the Iranians detained in Iraq and the Britons captured by Iran, and say there is no prisoner swap. But Reva Bhalla, an Iran specialist at the private intelligence firm Stratfor, is one of those analysts who says the two events are indeed linked as part of a struggle between Iran and the United States for influence in Iraq and the Middle East.


"Those incidents are very connected," said Reva Bhalla. "The U.S. kind of showed how aggressive it can get in Iraq, and that was a clear signal to the Iranians. And now this was just a way to come back. This is far from over. We're going to see more of these tit-for-tat moves. But the negotiations are certainly reaching a very intense point for Iraq."


In recent months President Bush has taken a tough line against Iran, not only for its alleged nuclear weapons ambitions, but for what the administration says is Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents.


Ken Katzman, an Iran analyst for the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, agrees that there is a strong linkage. Katzman believes the capture of the British sailors and marines was just one option that is part of a larger package of Iranian moves against the United States and its coalition partners in Iraq.


"I think there probably was a joint decision that once President Bush announced his much more robust or assertive policy against Iran inside Iraq, I think the Iranians put their heads together and came up with some sort of a package of steps that they might take that might counter President Bush's new policy," said Ken Katzman. "And seizing coalition sailors in the Iraq waterways was probably one on the menu that they developed, and they decided to go with it."


It is not known who in Iran actually ordered the operation against the British sailors and marines. But although President Ahmadinejad is a hardliner, some analysts believes the order may have come directly from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.


Katzman says Iran already felt its back was against the wall with U.N. sanctions imposed on the Iranian government over its alleged bid to build a nuclear weapon.


"In some ways Iran felt cornered," he said. "It's facing pressure in the Security Council. It's facing pressure in Iraq from the United States. It's facing pressure in the Gulf. It's facing pressure through sanctions, economic pressure, financial pressure, banking pressure. So I think Iran wanted to develop a package of options that would give it leverage back again. And I think this [seizure] was on that list."


Wayne White, a former senior State Department Middle East analyst, says the linkage between the U.S. detention of the Iranians in Iraq and the seizure of the British sailors would seem clear to Iran. He says that once Iran saw it was not going to get a prisoner swap, officials there decided to dump the problem.


"It could have been one reason why it wasn't linked overtly is that it was thought to be obvious on the part of the Iranians that there would be this link and that's why we might do something like this [iranian capture], and recognizing that there was this negative blowback for what they did in whatever waters, that they couldn't hold out for a trade," said Wayne White.


White adds that the Iranian seizure has only reinforced the international image of Iran as, in his words, "irresponsible, dangerous, and unpredictable."

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Washington Post

April 6, 2007

Pg. 21


Britain's Humiliation -- And Europe's


By Charles Krauthammer


Iran has pulled off a tidy little success with its seizure and release of those 15 British sailors and marines: a pointed humiliation of Britain, with a bonus demonstration of Iran's intention to push back against coalition challenges to its assets in Iraq. All with total impunity. Further, it exposed the impotence of all those transnational institutions -- most prominently the European Union and the United Nations -- that pretend to maintain international order.


You would think maintaining international order means, at least, challenging acts of piracy. No challenge here. Instead, a quiet capitulation.


The quid pro quos were not terribly subtle. An Iranian "diplomat" who had been held for two months in Iraq is suddenly released. Equally suddenly, Iran is granted access to the five Iranian "consular officials" -- Revolutionary Guards who had been training Shiite militias to kill Americans and others -- whom the United States had arrested in Irbil in January. There may have been other concessions we will never hear about. But the salient point is that American action is what got this unstuck.


Where then was the European Union? These 15 hostages, after all, are not just British citizens but, under the laws of Europe, citizens of Europe. Yet the European Union lifted not a finger on their behalf.


Europeans talk all the time about their preference for "soft power" over the brute military force those Neanderthal Americans resort to all the time. What was the soft power available here? Iran's shaky economy is highly dependent on European credits, trade and technology. Britain asked the European Union to threaten to freeze exports, $18 billion a year of commerce. Iran would have lost its No. 1 trading partner. The European Union refused.


Why was nothing done? The reason is simple. Europe functions quite well as a free-trade zone, but as a political entity it is a farce. It remains a collection of sovereign countries with divergent interests. A freeze of economic relations with Europe would have shaken the Iranian economy to the core. "The Dutch," reported the Times of London, "said it was important not to risk a breakdown in dialogue." So much for European solidarity.


Like other vaunted transnational institutions, the European Union is useless as a player in the international arena. Not because its members are venal but because they are sovereign. Their interests are simply not identical.


The problem is most striking at the United Nations, the quintessential transnational institution with a mandate to maintain international peace and order. There was a commonality of interest at its origin -- defeating Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. The war ended, but the wartime alliance of Britain, France, the United States, China and Russia proclaimed itself the guardian of postwar "collective security" as the Security Council.


Small problem: Their interests are not collective. They are individual. Take the Iranian nuclear program. Russia and China make it impossible to impose any serious sanctions. China has an interest in maintaining strong relations with a major energy supplier and is not about to jeopardize that over Iranian nukes that are no threat to it whatsoever. Russia sees Iran as a useful proxy in resisting Western attempts to dominate the Persian Gulf.


Ironically, the existence of transnational institutions such as the United Nations makes it harder for collective action against bad actors. In the past, interested parties would simply get together in temporary coalitions to do what they had to do. That is much harder now because they believe such action is illegitimate without the Security Council's blessing. The result is utterly predictable. Nothing has been done about the Iranian bomb. In fact, the only effective sanctions are those coming unilaterally out of the U.S. Treasury.


Remember the great return to multilateralism -- the new emphasis on diplomacy and "working with the allies" -- so widely heralded at the beginning of the second Bush administration? To general acclaim, the cowboys had been banished and the grown-ups brought back to town.


What exactly has the new multilateralism brought us? North Korea tested a nuclear device. Iran has accelerated its march to developing the bomb. The pro-Western government in Beirut hangs by a thread. The Darfur genocide continues unabated.


The capture and release of the British hostages illustrate once again the fatuousness of the "international community" and its great institutions. You want your people back? Go to the European Union and get stiffed. Go to the Security Council and get a statement that refuses even to "deplore" this act of piracy. (You settle for a humiliating expression of "grave concern.") Then turn to the despised Americans. They'll deal some cards and bail you out.

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Washington Post

April 6, 2007

Pg. 21


Calming The Waters In The Gulf


By David Ignatius


Here's an American acronym we ought to translate promptly into the Iranian language of Farsi: INCSEA.


It's shorthand for a May 1972 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union to prevent dangerous incidents at sea, and it's a model for how to begin reducing dangerous tensions with Iran.


The moment for such a dialogue is ripe, now that the Iranians have opted for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis they provoked two weeks ago when they seized15 British sailors and marines in disputed waters off the Iraqi coast. The British hostages are back home, but it's obvious that a better system is needed to avoid confrontations in the crowded waters of the northern Persian Gulf.


U.S. naval commanders with the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain have been interested for many months in the possibility of a "naval hotline." They know how quickly an incident in the Gulf could trigger an inadvertent escalation that could push the United States and Iran toward war. U.S. admirals are said to favor some system that would allow them to talk directly with the Iranian navy and, more important, with the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps naval forces that seized the British sailors.


The current system for avoiding confrontations is informal and haphazard. The U.S. Navy, in effect, draws imaginary lines in the Gulf and stays within those boundaries. By repeating the same patterns over and over, it signals to the Iranians that it doesn't have hostile intent. But one unplanned action -- a loose torpedo that strikes an American warship -- and the two nations could be on the verge of war.


"Our naval commanders are very concerned about confrontation coming out of misunderstanding," says Eric Thompson, who directs the international affairs group of the Center for Naval Analyses, a Washington think tank.


The INCSEA agreement was negotiated during the dark years of the Cold War, after a series of dangerous incidents involving the U.S. and Soviet navies. In May 1967, two Soviet warships collided with the American destroyer USS Walker while it was escorting a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan. That was part of an ongoing game of "chicken" at sea, with American jets routinely buzzing Soviet warships.


What finally prompted action was an incident involving a British ship. The aircraft carrier Ark Royal collided with a Soviet destroyer in November 1970, killing a number of Soviet sailors. Moscow decided to accept an American proposal for "Safety at Sea" talks, and the roiling waters began to calm.


The American assigned to lead the U.S. negotiating team was none other than John Warner, then undersecretary of the Navy and now a U.S. senator from Virginia. As the negotiations progressed, Warner invited the Soviet delegation to his house for dinner -- where they watched President Richard Nixon announce the mining of Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam. The Russian admiral leading the Soviet delegation turned to Warner and said, "I need another bourbon; this matter is for the politicians to decide," according to naval historian David F. Winkler in his book "Cold War at Sea."


INCSEA talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran aren't likely to involve bourbon. But the Cold War agreement offers some useful guideposts. The United States and the Soviet Union pledged in 1972 to try to avoid collisions, to refrain from close surveillance and to inform each other before potentially dangerous maneuvers. Most important, they agreed to exchange information promptly through naval attachés in the event of an incident and to hold annual meetings to review how the agreement was working.


This confidence-building measure followed the 1963 hotline agreement that established a direct communications link between the White House and the Kremlin. The October 1962 Cuban missile crisis had convinced both sides that the risk of misunderstanding in a crisis was too high -- and that they needed some reliable channel for contact. Surely we are at a similar moment now with Iran, when the risks of escalation are obvious to everyone.


Perhaps the British, who have diplomatic relations with Iran, could begin the dialogue about an INCSEA for the Persian Gulf. The goal would be an official blessing for navy-to-navy contacts. The British could then draw in the United States for a broader discussion about naval "rules of the road" in the Gulf. It might make sense to embed this naval hotline in a larger framework for discussing regional security, similar to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which helped defuse Cold War tensions.


Crisis brings opportunity. The British sailors and marines are back home. The Iranians are patting themselves on the back for exercising restraint. Now it's time for discussions that begin to move Iran and the West back from the brink.

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From Navy Times


Sailor feared Iranians measured her for coffin

The Associated Press

Posted : Monday Apr 9, 2007 6:01:03 EDT


LONDON — One of the British sailors detained by Iran for nearly two weeks believed she was being measured for a coffin, a newspaper reported Monday.


The Sun newspaper also reported that Faye Turney, 25, was told by her captors that her 14 male colleagues had been released while she alone was being held.


Another sailor, Arthur Batchelor, 20, said he was singled out by his captors because he was the youngest of the crew.


The interviews were the first results of the Ministry of Defense's decision to allow the former captives to sell their stories to the media. The financial arrangements for Turney and Batchelor were not disclosed, but Turney said the offer she accepted was not the largest she had been offered.


The Sun said Turney feared at one point that she would be killed.


“One morning, I heard the noise of wood sawing and nails being hammered near my cell. I couldn't work out what it was. Then a woman came into my cell to measure me up from head to toe with a tape,'' The Sun quoted Turney as saying. “She shouted the measurements to a man outside. I was convinced they were making my coffin.''


Turney said she asked one Iranian official where her male colleagues were.


“He rubbed the top of my head and said with a smile, 'Oh no, they've gone home. Just you now,''' she said.


At another time, Turney said the same official asked her how she felt about dying for country.


By her fifth day in detention, she said she was told that she could be free within two weeks if she confessed that the crew had intruded into Iranian waters.


“If I didn't, they'd put me on trial for espionage and I'd go to prison for several years. I had just an hour to think about it,'' The Sun quoted her as saying. “If I did it, I feared everyone in Britain would hate me. But I knew it was my one chance of fulfilling a promise to Molly (her daughter) that I'd be home for her birthday on May 8.


“I decided to take that chance, and write in such a way that my unit and my family would know it wasn't the real me.''


Batchelor said in an interview with the Daily Mirror that he found his capture “beyond terrifying.''


“They seemed to take particular pleasure in mocking me for being young,'' he said. “A guard kept flicking my neck with his index finger and thumb. I thought the worst.''


Retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Cordingly said Monday he believes the sailors and marines were being used “almost as a propaganda tool'' by the British government.


“I was depressed because I thought the team [was] so good on the press conference — they didn't overplay their unpleasant experience and we could all imagine what they had gone through,'' Cordingly said in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview. “I think it's unfortunate the [Ministry of Defense] are using the sailors and Marines in this way. They are using them almost as a propaganda tool and it seems to be encouraging us to feel irritated with Iran rather than dialogue going on.”

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