A British Tar
Two opinions on why British sailors were seized by Iran, both apparently as different as night and day, but not really contradictory when one thinks about it. The first quote comes from former Royal Navy chief Admiral Sir Alan West as interviewed by the BBC, who understatedly emphasizes the "innocent" nature of British efforts as he subtly suggests the ruthlessness of Iranians:
BBC: What kind of equipment would the navy have to guide them?
Admiral West: They have GPS and they have a system which allows communications. It means they know where the mother ship is and the mother ship knows where they are. GPS means they know their position exactly.
BBC: What are the rules of engagement in this type of situation?
Admiral West:The rules are very much de-escalatory, because we don't want wars starting. ... So we try to downplay things. Rather then roaring into action and sinking everything in sight we try to step back and that, of course, is why our chaps were effectively able to be captured and taken away. If we find this is going to be a standard practice we need to think very carefully about what rules of engagement we want and how we operate. One can't allow as a standard practice nations to capture a nation's servicemen. That is clearly wrong.
Recently, news agencies have carried stories from Iranian sources that the British sailors have "confessed" to violating Teheran's territory. Here is what Admiral West had to say:
These particular people would not be trained in counter-interrogation techniques because they are not expected to be captured. But I think our guidance to anyone in that position would be to say what they want you to say, let's not be silly about it. Don't tell them secrets, clearly, but if they tell you: 'Say this', well if that's going to get you out, then do it. It means absolutely nothing, what they say to be honest.
Mario Loyola, writing in the National Review, thinks the Iranians lashed out at a full-court press imposed by Western navies connected with pending sanctions before the UN Security Council.
...it wouldn’t surprise me if the Iranians were actually responding, in this case, to a carefully planned provocation of our own. As Churchill said, sometimes the truth is so precious that she must be attended by a bodyguard of lies.
Recall the context: The Security Council route for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program has clearly failed. ... In this climate, it is important to understand the threat delivered this week by Ali Khamenei. The regime’s basic position is that Iran has kept its nuclear program entirely legal, but now the “illegitimate” Security Council is taking actions against Iran that are “illegal” and therefore Iran would be justified in taking illegal actions of its own.
The U.S. and its partners now have few options for responding to Iran’s continued belligerence besides the current, fairly massive, naval and airpower buildup in the Gulf. Iran now has a Western armada cruising just miles from its coasts, in waters well within its Economic Exploitation Zone — which means that U.S. Navy destroyers are probably waltzing around within Frisbee range of Iranian offshore-drilling platforms. The gloves are coming off. And the risk-calculation here is: If someone gets nervous and starts shooting, the timing would be more auspicious now for us than for the Iranians. Therefore, it only makes sense that American and British naval units operating in the Gulf would be in a more forward-leaning and aggressive posture than the Iranians.
While Admiral West remains unsure about Teheran's ultimate motivation, and while Loyola believes it is related to tensions arising from the Security Council resolutions, without any inside information but on general principles, there's a another interpretation one can put on events. It is related to the ongoing intelligence war between Iran and the West. Iran may want hostages it can trade for agents who have been captured by the US or who have defected to the West. Recently BBC reporter Alan Johnston was kidnapped in Gaza a week ago and still missing. "Alan Johnston has been the BBC's correspondent in the Gaza Strip for the past three years - and the only foreign journalist from a major media organisation based in Gaza. ... His Gaza posting is due to come to an end at the end of this month." Could Johnston's kidnapping have been perpetrated by Hamas or any of the Palestinian factions with Iranian connections?
If so, all of these scenarios suggest an unexpected weakness in the Iranian side. Can it be that all Iran can manage is to pick up a BBC journalist and a few sailors in small boats while the US captures senior Qods personnel and snares high-ranking defectors? However, the Israeli experience suggests that a dictatorial and terrorist foe can play an unexpectedly strong hand from a weak position. The Iranians, like their proteges Hezbollah and Hamas can leverage the mainstream media to turn one or two low ranking prisoners into the political equivalent of thousands of enemy captives. Last summers war in Lebanon was started by the kidnapping of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, last rumored to be in Teheran like the British sailors, who is being offered freedom in exchange for 600 prisoners in Israeli jails, a proposal made through Egypt. Shalit has not yet been returned. Back in 1962, a senior Soviet spy, Colonel Rudolf Abel, was exchanged for one tortured American U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers. What will the British sailors be worth? The world has changed a little since Gilbert and Sullivan wrote these words.
A British tar is a soaring soul
As free as a mountain bird
His energetic fist should be ready to resist
A dictatorial word
His nose should pant and his lip should curl
His cheeks should flame and his brow should furl
His bosom should heave and his heart should glow
And his fist be ever ready for a knock-down blow
His eyes should flash with an inborn fire
His brow with scorn be wrung
He never should bow down to a domineering frown
Or the tang of a tyrant tongue
His foot should stamp and his throat should growl
His hair should curl and his face should scowl
His eyes should flash and his breast protrude
And this should be his customary attitude
Here's the G&S tune in a midi clip.