April 4, 2007

Did Iran Blink?

The Iranians apparently caught everyone by surprise when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unexpectedly 'pardoned' the 15 British sailors and Marines they captured in Iraq waters two weeks ago. The Times of London reports that the sudden concession by the mullahcracy springs from a victory of pragmatist factions over hardliners, and that the Iranians saw no benefit from the further isolation a prolonged battle over the detainees would bring:

The extremists wanted to put the British on trial or at least hold them as a bargaining chip for the release of five Iranian officials arrested by US forces in Iraq in January who are still in custody.

The more moderate elements advised the opposite. Iran is already reeling from sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council and in all likelihood faces further measures this year if it is does not halt its controversial nuclear programme.

The British might not have been in a position to use force against Iran but they did demonstrate that they could muster powerful allies around the world willing to take up the cause of the captured British sailors and marines. Iran’s economy is already weak, further action could damage the Government’s power base.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for an end to the crisis. A tougher worded statement came from the European Union. Key Middle East regional powers, like Turkey, Syria, Saudia Arabia and Iraq also took up the cause and bombarded Iranian leaders with calls to free the British.

Perhaps. I think this analysis overstates the positive effects of both the UN and EU statements. The UN only wound up deploring the situation; it was the weakest possible option open to the Security Council. Getting anything out of the Islamist-friendly Russians and Chinese might be considered a victory of sorts, but it's pretty thin gruel. The EU response was even more embarrassing, refusing to even allow Britain to boycott Iranian trade.

If one believes the Iranians blinked, that probably came from the significant amount of military assets the US began deploying in the Gulf over the last two weeks. The US conducted war games within sight of the Iranian military, a none-too-subtle reminder that America had the firepower to make life uncomfortable for the Iranians, even if they thought the UK did not. With many believing that George Bush wants a reason or even an excuse to go after the Iranian mullahcracy before he leaves office, the incident seemed too provocative by half, especially for more cautious Iranians.

All of this is predicated on the belief that Iran got nothing for its concession. If that's true, then Iran lost some mojo in this crisis, but somehow I don't see that as a possibility, given the political situation in the region. If Blair had the nerve to order an attack, he would have done so almost immediately. Instead, the Brits used the language of de-escalation and compromise, especially over the last few days, signaling that they were ready to bargain. Would Ahmadinejad have dropped the issue with a potential victory so close at hand? It seems highly unlikely.

I hope the Times of London has it right, but it looks like a rather desperate attempt at spin for the moment. (via Hot Air)


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» 2007.04.04 Iran/Brit Hostage Crisis Roundup from Bill's Bites
Ahmadinejad Says British Troops Will Be Freed TEHRAN, Iran — Fifteen British sailors and marines seized by Iranian naval personnel have been pardoned and will be freed, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at a press conference Wednesday, but he vowed his [Read More]

Comments (13)

Posted by BoWowBoy [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 2:43 PM

I am suspecting something was exacted from either the Brits or the U.S.A. Call me jaded. We will find out in the next few weeks.

This exercise only shows that our governments will not learn anything from the Iranian Mullocracy no matter how long we deal with them. This has been their M.O. since the late 70's .......and .....we fail to learn.

The press is already projecting that Pelosi's visit to Syria (the belly of the beast) is responsible for this release event.

Posted by lexhamfox [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 3:07 PM

This could be as simple as the Iranian FO and the Supreme Council overriding the RG elements who apprehended and held the servicemen.

Iranian leadership is not monolithic... there are many parts with different objectives and interests and the conflicting statements coming from those different parts of the Iranian power structure are evidence that there was a wrestling match going on in the background that we were not privy to and the FO folk won with the Supreme Council throwing their weight behind freeing the servicemen.

Posted by PersonFromPorlock [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 3:51 PM

If Iran got nothing else, it got away with taking Britons prisoner and releasing them on its own terms. That's a loss for Britain and a gain for Iran any way you cut it.

Posted by The Mechanical Eye [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 4:14 PM

My assessment is far less sanguine.

Iran knows how to put on a PR spectacle - they, not us, are the magnanimous, merciful ones, letting out their apparently well-treated "detainees" during Holy Week without any strings. Achmadinejad was wisely muzzled, and Iran burned away a potentially nasty news week about a UN vote against their nuclear program with their choreographed release of the prisoners.

Last week I thought this would make Iran look isolated and thuggish. Instead they repudiated that image - they let go the hostages at their own choosing, not because they were afraid of what someone like Reagan or Thatcher might do.


Posted by SoldiersMom [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 4:34 PM

I was listening to Ollie North on my way home from work today. He said Iran will continue to take hostages, just as they've done since "79 because they know they hold the "hole" card - OIL. Oil could reach $100/barrel or better.

I don't know how the rest of the world feels, but I'd rather ride a fricking bike for the rest of my life than be held hostage by the mullahs. I'd cook over a camp fire every night if it meant they could never use this threat against my Grandchildren. I'd proudly make any sacrifice to ensure their doctrine's demise.

Posted by Greg Brown [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 5:18 PM

I see two things that people are missing. First, what is a promise from Iran worth? To paraphrase James Thurber, I'll wait to celebrate until the boobies are actually out of the hatch.

And secondly, to those who say that Iran and the mullahs have caved to western pressure of some sort, nothing could be further from the truth. Achmadinejad twitted the great powers for a couple of weeks and that's all that the rest of the world will see. There was nothing the Brits could do to get their people back. America couldn't make Iran disgorge this latest round of hostages. Achmed-did-a-job "pardons" them and they go free. There has been nothing but upside for Iran since they took their prisoners.

Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 5:43 PM

Cap'n Ed wrote:

If Blair had the nerve to order an attack, he would have done so almost immediately. Instead, the Brits used the language of de-escalation and compromise, especially over the last few days, signaling that they were ready to bargain.

It may well be that it isn't a question of Blair having or lacking the nerve. It may be a simple case that there wasn't a whole lot he felt that Britain COULD do, even with our help.


GOAL: Safe and speedy return of the hostages

Option 1: Threat of military reprisals

(A) Even with US help, Britain lacks the muscle to make credible threats. Yes, they could damage / destroy Karg Island and hurt the Iranian economy, but this in itself would not get the hostages released. Indeed, it would probably see them speedily executed on whatever trumped up charges the Iranians chose.

(B) Britain would almost certainly lose the propaganda war if they attacked. First, they would almost certainly need our help, leaving them open to charges of being our lackeys. Second, there are plenty of people (some of whom post here) who are completely prepared to believe that Britain provoked the incident by having its sailor illegally intrude on Iranian waters.

(C) Unless Britain could inflict "convincing" damage on Iran, they would be exposed as paper tigers. Consider the most recent Israel / Hezbollah spat. Israel kicked Hebollah's ass, but did it in such a half-hearted way that the hezbos were able to claim victory.

(D) Britain can't invade Iran. Unless it used nukes, Britain can't destroy Iran. It may be that Blair and his military judged that they couldn't guarantee that a military solution would work.

(E) We think (hope?) that there are moderate and even revolutionary elements in Iran that will eventually depose the ayatollahs. Attacking Iran doesn't exactly help their cause.

Option 2: Diplomacy

(A) When force fails, this is all you've got left. We don't know what (if anything) the British conceeded to Iran to get the sailors back. We can only hope that Blair wasn't stupid enough to give away the store. I can't imagine that he was.

In the final analysis, the British got their sailors back. Iran may (or may not) have won a small victory, but I don't think they'll try playing this kind of game again. I certainly don't think they'll try it with the US Navy, which I think will be rather quick on the trigger if any Iranian boats get too close (i.e. leave port).

We'll see how this unfolds down the road.

Posted by Karen [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 6:19 PM

They haven't gotten them back yet, as they are not to leave until Thursday.

Call me more jaded, but I believe they probably got a POW swap from the coalition who have captured Iranians in Iraq.

Posted by viking01 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 6:58 PM

Amazingly, Je$$e Jack$on has been too slow in finding a way to exploit the issue.

A couple years ago there was a big news story about a female Italian journalist kidnapped by a terrorist group in Iraq. A while later she had "escaped". Not more than a few weeks later it was revealed that her freedom had been bought by the Italian government.

As one who voted twice for the current though often disappointing (on immigration or fighting back versus opponents and media propagandists) President and supports the necessity of this war I don't think the WH administration is sufficiently organized to have arranged a freedom deal any more than fried hippie poseur San Fran Nan.

It would not surprise if George Soros checkbook played a role. All he'd need to do is tell Ahmanutjob to do a little P.R. stunt for Neville Nan while she's in the region and he'd make it worth the trouble financially. A little deal that pardoned fugitive arms dealer Mark Rich might be willing to negotiate. Even the true-believer Dems know who owns their political party after Slick so there would be no surprise if Mr. Moveon.org were to entice Iran to help Neville Nan undercut our foreign policy and military efforts. No less than Johnny Huang helped grease the sales of nuclear, supercomputer and missile tech by Slick to the ChiComs back in the mid 1990s. Like John Edwards revealed trolling for sympathy cash Pelosi is aware of who is willing to play along with her to best undermine our troops and Britain's in a Faustian bargain to get angry Hillary in for 2008.

Pelosi is a defective Dorian Gray in both principles and appearance.

Posted by conservative democrat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 8:26 PM

Iran retaliated for the 5 Iranians seized in Irbil last year.Viking if the dems are so evil, why did the american people throw out the gop in the midterms? I'll answer that for you, Bush blundered in Iraq, the gop should have changed its name to the corruption party. So if you feel like throwing stones at dems, expect to get some thrown right back at you. Dems today fight back, you keep confusing them with the lets-make-nice dems. IMHO we should have learned to fight back sooner, but better late than never.

Posted by viking01 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 9:31 PM

Reading the first half of the response was sufficient for not reading the last half. No confusion here. It read just like another something expected from NPR.

Speaking of retaliation the Dems don't exactly fight back they simply get personal when disagreed with. Sorta like that rebellion against their parents during a 1960s mis-spent youth.

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 5, 2007 1:06 AM

conservative democrat,

not much of a retaliation to take people from the wrong country prisoner and then to fit them with misshapen suits. They get much more retaliation each time one of their shaped copper "IED"s go off (which, from the latest reports, is far less often since we worked our way through their "diplomatic" computers and raided a few warehouses).

We're still holding their five "diplomats" -- all of whom were unaccredited according to the Iraqis and hence eligible for the hoosegow.

I don't see the Dem's fighting back at all -- they have learned a lot from the French on the concept of the surrender monkey, and are doing that dance big time.

Posted by Ralph127 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 5, 2007 6:01 AM

In a further cost cutting initiative the red cross of St. George will be replaced with a white plus sign in the fabled White Ensign of the Royal Navy. In addition the Union Jack in the canton will be eliminated as an unnecessary expense.

Maximum Leader Pelosi plans a similar redesign of Old Glory to free up more money for spinach growers. The constellation of stars will be expanded to fill the whole field as a jester of universality to all carbon-based species. Bush is expected to invite Maximum Leader Pelosi to lunch to announce this kinder, gentler, new tone pendent.

Five years after 9/11 why are the lights still on in Iran?

Five years after 9/11 why do we permit a penny from Saudi Arabia to enter our country?

Five years after 9/11 why do we permit Muslims to enter our country?

Five years after 9/11 why do we permit Muslims to remain in our country?

What city do you think good Muslims will nuke first?