Saturday, March 24, 2007

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. 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.


Blogger dla said...

Operation Praying Mantis in 1988. I bring that up only as a reminder that the US has tangled with the Iranians before.

I wonder what the Brits will do?

3/24/2007 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger Tom_Holsinger said...

The mullahs chose the British as victims because they know the British will do nothing. It's a freebie for them.

3/24/2007 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

This could have a lot to do with the internal politics of Iran.

I wonder if Ahmadinejad knew what was going to happen. His story for not going to New York seemed a bit "not with the program" here. Like he knew something was up but not exactly what it was or what its significance might be. Hence the lame excuse about the visas not showing up in a timely manner, instead of his normal provocative rant. These are suppose to be his boys, his base of support, that pulled the stunt. If they do something like this without telling him, how does that impact his stature? And who put them up to it-- Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Khamenei (who might be out of commission) or the so-called pragmatists?

Maybe he did not want to leave because he would not have a job to come back to. I think he would have loved to say "how now Great Satan!" with a big crisis boiling.

3/24/2007 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

We suspect that Britannia's sons today will not deploy their "long-range guns" of yore. If there remains a British Navy, it is more of Golden Pond than of Nelson at Trafalgar or Drake in narrow seas.

Nonetheless, we may yet hope that Britain's last few unreconstructed non-PCBS types might remind Ahmadinejad & Co. --skulking wretches that they are-- of a certain Argentine miscalculation in the Falklands some years back. Ah, but Maggie Thatcher knew reality, including how to deal with thugs.

In 1979, six years before today's college seniors were even born, in typical D-rat fashion Jimmeh Carter bleated piteously at sublet terrorists and went back to vetting peanut subsidies. When Brezhnev and his Kremlin cronies stopped laughing, they mounted a murderous coup in Kabul and pushed brutal Soviet forces into Afghanistan-- the Great Game was won! Quavering, stammering, Jimmeh's press-releases (never an actual speech) amounted to a coward's plaint: "Dear me!"

No quoting Churchill or Rudyard Kipling now. What'll it be, Tony? Annoy Red Ken by taking minimal command responsibility, or let Tehran's grunting porkers set Allah's chainsaws on your once-great nation's Royal Marines?

3/24/2007 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Oh, but President Peanut DID teach the USSR a lesson over the Afghan invasion.

He told our Olympic athletes (who were said to have made some sacrifices in training for the event) that they could not attend the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

So there, Leonid!

I was in South America at the time, and the laughter--at USA--was uproarious.

3/24/2007 04:13:00 PM  
Blogger Peter UK said...

Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson is said to have jumped from the top of of his column in Trafalgar Square today.
Simultaneously the large flock of pigeons normally in attendance mysteriously died,a veterinary who attended the stricken birds said "They Probably died from shame"

The police are not looking for any other person in there inquires

3/24/2007 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

In the current, crowded order of battle in this area, would it even be possible for the Brits to do anything on their own? Not likely. Now that the captives have been taken to Tehran, they're trapped in diplomacy. No raid at Entebbe for these guys, and they're not EDS employees, so Ross Perot's not likely to go in and get them out.

It seems likely Admadinejad cancelled his visit to New York because he knew he was going to get a face full of sanctions from the Security Council. This misadventure on the high seas may have been part of a strategy, but it seems unlikely.

Or maybe Pres. A. imagined we'd take him hostage? Heh, not bloody likely.

Pressure is stepping up all over. The Marines recently reversed themselves and said the Chinook lost last month with 7 killed was shot down by a missile so advanced that the CH-46 self-defense systems didn't even respond to it. AWST notes that advanced Russian technology is in the Syrian inventory.

During Vietnam we had ridiculous ROE that allowed our enemies to deploy MiGs and we weren't even allowed to bomb their airfields. This isn't Vietnam, we can't let that go on here. There is no Cold War anymore, there is no nuclear superpower we need to fear ... yet.

The pressure is ratcheting up. Too bad it didn't happen long ago. I'll give the Dems credit for lighting a fire under our asses, the way they thought they could do to the Iraqis by threatening to leave Iraq to its own devices. Bush and our military feel the same pressure to win now or forever hold their peace.

Iran is getting twitchy. That's a hell of a lot of Navy Air in the vicinity.

3/24/2007 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

There is a report that the Brit prisoners will be used as bargaining chips to gain the return of the Iranian prisoners taken in Iraq recently Iran: British sailors 'bargaining chips'

The original source of this info is the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, which I think has a tendancy to make things up.

If true the Iranians have yet to make a public demand of the release of their nationals in exchange for the release of the Brit marines. I wouldn't think they would wait too long to make their demands if that's their plan.

If the Brits act militarily they the US Navy will act together with them. Operation Praying Mantis is certainly the prototype.

3/24/2007 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Whatever happens in the Council next, the next chapter in this story will play out on the waters of the Persian Gulf. Events in the Gulf so far this week:

* French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle joins American battle-groups for exercises in the Arabian Sea.
* Ali Khamenei hints that Iran will abandon the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
* Iranian navy conducts live-fire exercises in close proximity to American naval forces patrolling the Gulf.
* Iranian Revolutionary Guards seize fifteen British sailors supposedly on patrol in Iraqi waters, but nearby British warship does not interdict the RG raid, suggesting strongly that the Brits were not in Iraqi waters.

Security Council Resolution on Iran [Mario Loyola]
Resolution 1747 imposing further sanctions on Iran passes unanimously with 15 votes.

3/24/2007 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Okay, just like Habu would, I gotta admit I was totally wrong about Iranian strategy here. My excuse is that I thought Iran's larger goal is demanding entry into the 21st century community of nations based on the merits. I was wrong.

The claim was backed by other sources in Tehran. “As soon as the corps’s five members are released, the Britons can go home,” said one source close to the Guards.

He said the tactic had been approved by Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who warned last week that Tehran would take “illegal actions” if necessary to maintain its right to develop a nuclear programme.

Iran ‘to try Britons for espionage’

So, trying to look ahead to the "peace movement" view on this ... are we still supposed to "talk to" these guys?

3/24/2007 07:37:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The London Times editorializes that the chief danger facing Iran is not so much how Whitehall will react to the seizure of British sailors, but what incalculable consequences may result from Teheran playing with fire with Israeli and American dynamite laying about.

Well, I don't know about that. But clearly with UN, EU, UK, US, Sunni and Israeli threads running like a yellow brick road through this whole thing, it can get tangled up in a second. If Teheran were rational it would de-escalate. They are now engaged in foreign adventures in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, maybe even Latin America. A potentially dangerous Iraq is right next door; the Kurds may have their way and they have internal troubles fit to choke a goat. So why not back off?

Extremism is funny in that way: always needing to ratchet things up. First you set fire to your hair, then you put it out with a hammer.

3/24/2007 08:48:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Intriguing how the Russians are backing away.

Also how the gold markets sold off on Friday. Hard to figure.

3/24/2007 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger IceCold said...

The British admiral's comments are pretty devastating to the RN's reputation. Avoiding "escalation" does not involve allowing your bumbling adversaries to escalate when they choose. I'm not aware of any evidence that the vaunted but very ill-considered British approach of passivitiy in the south yielded any benefits, and here on the waters of the Gulf they've yielded an outright fiasco. An RN team taken with a Type 22 frigate in the area - if reports are accurate - and the situation is allowed to escalate (that's right, admiral, that's what happened) because the ROE calls for the RN to sit by and do nothing?

Perhaps mothballing the RN is a good move - as they don't appear to have any use anyway, given the current dementia in UK politics and, apparently, Whitehall (to include Northwood).

3/24/2007 10:29:00 PM  
Blogger bobalharb said...

It would have been easier for the Brits to simply fly some hostages to Iran on British Airways, so the Iranians would have them on hand when needed.

3/25/2007 01:02:00 AM  
Blogger Ari Tai said...

I'm surprised anyone with hostages in Iran doesn't pick up a few more of their own to trade. Some folks of 1 to 1 value, rather than 1 to 600. For the PC in the readership, note that trading 1 to 600 is an insult (likely unbearable given their feeling about comics :-), so we have an obligation to make it appear more like the U2 trade. Given the coalition access to Iranian leadership (spies, etc.), they should be able to arrange to collect one or more high-value members of the leadership almost at will.

3/25/2007 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger neo-neocon said...

Hostage-taking is encouraged by the rules of engagement discussed by Admiral West. It also is encouraged by the fact that, in the past, it's worked wonderfully for the Iranians.

The bottom line is that we can't be social workers and military at the same time. They are well aware---and have been for a long time---that this is our weakness, and they're not the least bit reluctant to exploit it, so incidents like this should come as no surprise whatsoever.

3/26/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Griswel said...

Trading each hostage for a few hundred should be okay, even several thousand. I mean, how long could it take us to grab that many if we started right now?

3/28/2007 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Harold said...

I have written a book about the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf during the years 1987-1988. It includes all of the events from Stark to Vincennes, including several combat operations between the USA and Iran. The title is "Inside the Danger Zone." Check it out.

4/10/2007 01:04:00 PM  

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