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Another Iranian Hostage Crisis (Updated)

John on March 24, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Update (Sun. night): The Iranians are using state TV to lie to their own people:

Britain’s ambassador to Tehran, Geoffrey Adams, yesterday met Iranian foreign ministry officials to find out where the 15 captives – 14 men and a woman – were being held.

British officials said that the meeting, the second in two days, was at Britain’s request, but it was portrayed on the Iranian media as a summons and a dressing-down by Iran’s foreign ministry.

Meanwhile, the Brits are still hoping (foolishly in my opinion) for a diplomatic resolution:

British officials would not comment yesterday on a report in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, quoting an unnamed military source “close to” the elite al-Quds brigade of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as saying the seizure of the two-boat British patrol had been planned at a high level days in advance.

The aim, said the report, was to take captives to exchange for senior al-Quds officers arrested by US forces in Irbil, Iraq, earlier in the year.

Lord Triesman said Britain had been given assurances its sailors and marines the patrol were not being held hostage for political reasons, and another British official said: “For the time being, we are treating this as an isolated incident.”

The Independent notes that there are different rules of engagement for US sailors and marines doing similar duty:

In a dramatic illustration of the different postures adopted by British and US forces working together in Iraq, Lt-Cdr Erik Horner – who has been working alongside the task force to which the 15 captured Britons belonged – said he was “surprised” the British marines and sailors had not been more aggressive.

Asked by The Independent whether the men under his command would have fired on the Iranians, he said: “Agreed. Yes. I don’t want to second-guess the British after the fact but our rules of engagement allow a little more latitude. Our boarding team’s training is a little bit more towards self-preservation.”

The executive officer – second-in-command on USS Underwood, the frigate working in the British-controlled task force with HMS Cornwall – said: “The unique US Navy rules of engagement say we not only have a right to self-defence but also an obligation to self-defence. They [the British] had every right in my mind and every justification to defend themselves rather than allow themselves to be taken. Our reaction was, ‘Why didn’t your guys defend themselves?’”

Update (Sun.): Blair speaks for the first time:

“It is simply not true that they went into Iranian territorial waters, and I hope the Iranian government understands how fundamental an issue this is for us.”

The Brits have asked for access to the soldiers and the response is:

Iran…may grant Britain access to its navy personnel when Tehran’s investigation is complete, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, believe it or not, even Saudi Arabia is working to further isolate Iran:

[T]his Wednesday, the 22-state Arab League will gather in a rather public display of unity against Iran, hosted by Saudi Arabia’s ruler, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. He has led the diplomatic offensive to roll back Iranian influence among Lebanese, Palestinians, and Shiite Iraqis.

From a larger perspective, the Saudis are trying to curb the influence of radical, violent Islam – a move that should win the Saudi regime more support from Muslims around the world who see it as caretaker of major holy Islamic sites.

[End update]

I’m starting a new post to round up all the news because the old one was getting overlong. While I was out tonight catching 300 with some friends, Allahpundit at Hot Air was working this story. Hat tip for this link from the London Times:

A website run by associates of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, reported last night that the Britons would be put before a court and indicted.

Referring to them as “insurgents”, the site concluded: “If it is proven that they deliberately entered Iranian territory, they will be charged with espionage. If that is proven, they can expect a very serious penalty since according to Iranian law, espionage is one of the most serious offences.”

That’s bluster. The real goal:

Iranian student groups called yesterday for the 15 detainees to be held until US forces released five Revolutionary Guards captured in Iraq earlier this year.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned newspaper based in London, quoted an Iranian military source as saying that the aim was to trade the Royal Marines and sailors for these Guards.

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.

There’s also this bit which refers to recent defectors:

Intelligence sources said any advance order for the arrests was likely to have come from Major-General Yahya Rahim Safavi, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards.

Safavi is known to be furious about the recent defections to the West of three senior Guards officers, including a general, and the effect of UN sanctions on his own finances.

In short Iran is feeling the pinch and Khamenei has decided escalation is a good way to change the subject. Further suggestion that the Iranians are upset about revelations of their support for insurgent attacks in Iraq comes from the Sunday Mirror:

According to Western intelligence sources, intercepted radio communications show Tehran has been panicking over key operatives being picked up by Coalition forces in Iraq.

Since December, a dozen senior officers have been rounded up in operations against the growing Iranian involvement in attacks on British and US forces in Iraq.

An Israeli source told The Sunday Mirror that Iranian undercover units in Iraq have been ordered to mount hostage-taking operations against Coalition forces in retaliation.

Another story, also from the Mirror, claims that it’s more than just the five arrested in Irbil and a dozen senior officers that the Iranians want back:

Up to 50 Iranian “spies” have been captured and imprisoned by British troops in secret operations in southern Iraq in the last four years.

Now Government officials are having to consider setting them free to save the eight sailors – one a woman – and seven Royal Marines held by Iranians.


Last night a senior Whitehall source said: “The freeing of agents will almost certainly be one of Iran’s demands – and there certainly will be demands.

“Some have been arrested, some have been repatriated, but many are still being questioned under lock and key.

“Their imprisonment has enraged Iranian leaders – most of whom do not even recognise Iran’s borders with Iraq.”

Finally, the Daily Mail has this to say about one of the captives:

A young mother is among 15 British Armed Forces personnel who were last night being interrogated by the hardline Iranian regime. The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the woman in her 20s is understood to have more than one child and is a Royal Navy NCO.

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