Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Iran hostage drama at an end

As you are no doubt aware. But what to make of it all? Jonathan Freedland, writing in today's Guardian, believes it highlights Iran's empowerment courtesy of Britain and the US. There followed many enthusiastic posts quick to endorse this view. I can't agree. He believes the situations in Afghanistan and Iran have bolstered Iran and the question of whether this is true is not for now. However, consideration of what the capture of the British sea personnel has done for Iran is much clearer.

Ahmadinejad's press conference today bordered on the comic. He was returning the British soldiers as a gift, he said, to the British people. Thank you very much. He then pinned a bravery medal to the chest of the commander of the Revolutionary Guard naval patrol. A nice touch, something for the assembled cameras and a memento for the commander. Then he criticised Britain's use of "media hype" throughout the event. Best of all - gotta love these religious tyrannies - in a reference to Faye Turney, the only female among the captured Britons, he lamented: "How can you justify sending a mother away from her home, her children. Why don't they respect the values of families in the west?" Western decadence, my friend. And you know what else? She had no choice in the matter. A right-wing blog I used to visit if I wanted to make my blood boil which is now out of commission used to write Ahmadinejad with the 'mad' emboldened. Not very subtle but I see where the author was coming from.

Much guff has been written about the seizure being planned and what significance it had. I find it more likely that the capture was, as the commander of HMS Cornwall hoped in the immediate aftermath, an "error at tactical level". I think this likelihood goes a long way to explaining what followed it. Assuming it was a mistake then it may have taken some time for news of the seizure to filter its way to Ahmadinejad and his coterie and all the other controlling interests in the Iranian hierarchy. I believe this explains the difficulty the Foreign Office first had in engaging with anyone at a substantial level of Iranian government. Only after some measure of a plan had been conceived were we treated to the circus and hoopla. I wonder whether Ahmadinejad detects the irony in his assertion that Britain was guilty of using media hype. I suspect he did.

The BBC website gives an overview of the events according to each side. The most interesting aspect of the British account must be this:

  • On 24 March the Iranian government told the UK - according to the UK's Ministry of Defence - that the merchant vessel was at a different location, but still within Iraqi waters.
  • When the UK pointed out to the Iranians that the location they had given was within Iraqi waters, the Iranians provided a "corrected" location, nearly 1 nautical mile away (1.9km) from its first position but within Iranian waters.
  • Even Chris Tarrant is normally stricter and insists on taking your first answer. As it was Britain accepted neither. While we may smile wryly at the Iranians' apparently less than expert grasp of longitude and latitude, questions must be asked of Britain's policy of patrolling so close to the boarder of the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway.

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