In previous reporting about the crisis with Iran, I mentioned that with all the naval power being used to by the West to pressure the regime, there was an increased possibility of an incident taking place that could escalate into something more serious. Sooner or later, the provocations and intimidations being used both rhetorically and physically were going to bear fruit. It looks like this is what is happening with the reports we are hearing of 15 British sailors being captured by Iran.
A degree of caution is needed in talking about this latest incident as we do not have all the facts yet. But already there are more than one way of looking at this story. We could just accept the majority of media reports that stress that the British sailors were *not* in Iranian waters and were captured as part of a planned effort by the Iranians in order to use them as bargaining chips in the nuclear issue negotiated at the UN Security Council (more on that shortly). Or we could be open to the possibility at least that the sailors either did accidentally ‘stray’ into Iranian waters and were legitimately arrested for it. There is also the possibility that the intentions of the sailors were more sinister. At the moment there is no way of knowing the truth and so it’s probably wise to reserve judgement for the moment and restrict ourselves to speculation.
On thing I think we can take for granted is that any ‘confessions‘ made by the sailors while in Iranian custody can be taken with a pinch of salt. Both Britain and Iran are claiming they have evidence that proves the sailors were where each side says they were (either in Iraqi or Iranian waters respectively). Until this evidence is examined and made public no real determination as to who is right can be made. The last time this happened, back in 2004, it seems that the British personnel were indeed in Iranian waters and though this story is being repeated in the media, the point that British military were not where they were supposed to be on that occasion is not being stressed.
There is another fact that we can take for granted. With British personnel in Iranian custody, it will be much easier to turn public opinion against Iran and justify any future attack on that country. In this respect this incident is a propaganda coup for those who want a conflict with Iran. And if Iran thought that capturing British sailors would help them in this respect then it may well have shot itself in the foot. So far the Iranians have been fairly competent in their diplomacy and military actions, so it seems a little strange that they would resort to such a clumsy tactic now unless they thought they were genuinely defending their territory. However, the provocations on the Iranian regime have escalated sharply over the last three years with the American neo-cons, and, of course, Israel salivating at the prospect of another war.
As well as the British and American naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, there is also the ‘surge’ of American troops in the region and the deployment of Patriot missile batteries. And, of course, the extreme provocation of Iran with the recent kidnap of Iranian diplomats or consular staff by the Americans. This alone may be seen by the Iranians as a justification for its actions.
We cannot detach this incident from the activities at the UN Security Council which has just unanimously passed a new resolution against Iran over its alleged (but unproven) nuclear weapons program. This resolution means a tougher sanctions regime on Iran and strangely, expresses the hope that it will lead to further negotiations. I’d argue that this resolution will have the opposite effect and negotiations will be more difficult to achieve, particularly when America is so reluctant to negotiate (or do anything which doesn’t meet with Israel’s approval). Some of the ambassadors at the UN tried to argue for a nuclear free Middle East but were unable to get their message articulated in concrete terms. It seems that the main powers do not want a nuclear free Middle East but instead one where there is a single nuclear armed power which can impose its will over its neighbours. For this reason the new resolution is unfair and one should question just what pressures were put on the countries that had reservations about this misuse of international law by the powerful. Iran was predictably unimpressed by the new sanctions but shows no inclination to bend to the will of
America, Britain and Israel the UN. Before long Iran will feel compelled to use its biggest asset as a weapon – oil. If Iran decides that the world needs a reminder of how dependent it is on oil and cuts the flow of it through the Strait of Hormuz then prices will soar and war will be inevitable. Just to show how sensitive the oil market is, look what happened to oil prices when 15 British sailors were captured.
On the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War, no one should need reminding of the the dangers of pre-emptively attacking an unpleasant regime.