Thankfully, the crisis over the sailors and marines captured by the Iranians seems to be over and they are now home. In the end common sense prevailed and both sides sought to de-escalate the crisis before it evolved into something more frightening. There are lessons to be learned from this story, the main one being that dialogue and diplomacy are far more effective than hysteria and threats. This crisis ended despite Tony Blair not because of him. Blair’s intervention provoked the Iranians into changing their minds about releasing Faye Turney and to consider putting all the captives on trial. It may have ended sooner than it did if he hadn’t gone crying off to the UN. The Security Council seems to have realised how unhelpful this tactic of Blair’s was and watered down its statement. Even the European Union, which was far more supportive, balked at the prospect of imposing further sanctions on Iran as Britain hoped for.
The propaganda put out by Britain failed dismally too. It was just too difficult to portray the captives as being humiliated when they were shown to be healthy, eating well and relaxed even though there was obviously a degree of stress and the confessions and letters were extremely unlikely to have been voluntary. No matter how it is spun, there is clear contrast between the pictures we saw of the British personnel and the now infamous pictures we’ve seen of prisoners of the Americans, be it Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.
Compare and contrast
Blair’s statement on hearing the news of the release of the captives showed that his policies had failed and he had to resort to lies (as usual) saying that there were no negotiations.
“Throughout we have taken a measured approach – firm but calm, not negotiating, but not confronting either.”
That simply isn’t true. There were obviously plenty of negotiations going on behind the scenes. These negotiations led to the release of one of the Iranians captured by the Americans and an agreement to allow consular access to the others (it will be interesting to learn how they are being treated). So much for Bush’s no “quid pro quos”. The rhetoric was obviously toned down on both sides too. After returning from the Iranian new year holiday, cooler heads decided to end this crisis swiftly and President Ahmadinejad was instructed to release the captives, which he did with a theatrical touch at yesterday’s press conference and succeeded in surprising everybody concerned. Margaret Beckett expressing “regret” for the incident obviously helped a bit too.
Some sterling work was done by Craig Murray in pointing out that both the British and the Iranians were both wrong in their assertions that they were able to definitively tell in whose waters the sailors were in and getting the media to accept this point. It now seems likely that there will be some bilateral talks between Britain and Iran to prevent a similar incident.
As to the question of who came out best from the diplomatic wrangling, I’d say that both sides won because conflict was averted (for now). Hardliners on both sides will not be pleased, however. It does seem though that Iran comes out better from this saga at the moment. Blair has a new problem now. As long as British military personnel were held by the Iranians, he could manipulate public opinion to supporting war with Iran. Unfortunately, the Iranians had the temerity to spoil his plans by treating the captives humanely and then releasing them. So Blair has to switch to plan B and subtlety accuse the Iranian regime of being responsible for the deaths of four British soldiers in Iraq while pretending that he is doing no such thing.
“Now it’s far too early to say that the particular terrorist act that killed our forces was an act committed by terrorists who were backed by any elements of the Iranian regime, so I make no allegation in respect of that particular incident.
“But the general picture, as I have said before, is there are elements at least of the Iranian regime that are backing, financing, arming, terrorism in Iraq.”
Subtle as a brick! He’ll make as much political capital as he can out of this but I bet he won’t go to the funerals of any of the dead soldiers. Tony needn’t worry, he’ll probably get his war. There will no doubt be more provocations of the Iranians and America is sending yet another aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz to the Persian Gulf, apparently to relieve USS Eisenhower. We shall have to see. Common sense may have averted war for now but it is a rare commodity in Downing Street and the White House.
It is an interesting coincidence that this saga happened at about the same time as David Hicks is about released from Guantanamo to Australian custody to serve nine months for “providing material support to terrorism” provided that he
… agreed to several conditions including withdrawing allegations he had been abused by US authorities, before or after his transfer to the Guantanamo prison in 2002.
Also the release of British resident, Bisher al-Rawi from Guantanamo after four years without being charged with anything, much of which was spent in solitary confinement. His friend Jamil al-Banna is still there. His crime seems to be refusing to join MI5 and the British abducted the two men in Gambia on false allegations and handed them over to American ‘Justice’. That Britain is complicit in these crimes is beyond doubt, a point not lost on the Iranians.