March 28, 2007


Powder Keg at Shatt al-Arab: The Shatt al-Arab waterway, where Iranian forces seized 15 British sailors last week, has been contested by regional and world powers for decades. The first shots of the Iran-Iraq war were fired here. Iranian sensitivities and the West's desire to protect Iraqi oil installations make for an explosive mix. (Bernhard Zand, 3/28/07, Der Spiegel)

Most of Iran's oil wealth lies concentrated in Chusistan province, which is why the British would have liked nothing more, after World War One, than to make that stretch of land with its Arab population part of a British-controlled sheikhdom. But that was prevented by Shah Reza Pahlevi, who managed to consolidate his power. Still the region remained disputed, because the British remaining in Iraq continued to covet it.

Violating international custom, the British fixed the border along Shat al-Arab in such a way that the entire river, which marks the border between Iran and Iraq, became Iraqi territory - right up to the Iranian coast. It was only in 1975 that the government in Baghdad accepted shifting the border to the center of the river - a concession in return for which Shah Resa Pahlevi ceased supporting insurgent Iraqi Kurds.

In 1980, Saddam Hussein changed his mind, and the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran began with an Iraqi bombardment of the Iranian oil refinery town Abadan on the eastern bank of the Shat. Britain and the United States sided with the Iraqi dictator, providing him with military reconnaissance, weapons and even poison gas - a decision that continues to represent a bitter legacy liability for the West, and especially Britain, to this day.

Andrew Phillips, a British member of parliament, recently noted that the number of Iranians killed between 1980 and 1988 is comparable to that of British losses during World War One. In Iran, anti-British sentiment isn't limited to conservatives or to the radicals surrounding President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It's much more deep-seated than the hatred of the "Great Satan," the United States, that is constantly reiterated, partly for propaganda purposes.

Comeuppance is a bitch.

The appeasement of Iran (Melanie Phillips, , 28 March 2007, Daily Mail)

[I]n its response to these events, Britain seems to be in some kind of dreamworld. There is no sense of urgency or crisis, no outpouring of anger. There seems to be virtually no grasp of what is at stake.

Some commentators have languidly observed that in another age this would have been regarded as an act of war. What on earth are they talking about? It is an act of war. There can hardly be a more blatant act of aggression than the kidnapping of another country's military personnel.

What clearly does belong to another age is this country's ability to understand the proper way to respond to an act of war. When his Marines were seized by the Iranians, the commander of HMS Cornwall, Commodore Nick Lambert, did nothing to stop them and later said it was probably all a misunderstanding. If Nelson had been such a diplomat in such circumstances, Trafalgar would surely have been lost.

Our Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the Government had been 'disturbed' by the incident. The Prime Minister took three days to say that the seizure was 'unjustified and wrong' and mouthed platitudes about the welfare of the detainees. Yesterday he talked severely of 'moving to a new phase'.

My goodness, the Iranian regime must be shivering in its shoes. With what contempt they must regard us -- a country that stands impotently by while its people are kidnapped and then does no more than bleat that it is 'disturbed'.

What on earth has happened to this country of ours, for so many centuries a byword for defending itself against attack, not least against piracy or acts of war on the high seas?

Twenty-five years ago, we re-took the Falklands after the Argentines invaded. Faced with an act of war against our dependency, Mrs Thatcher had no hesitation. Aggression had to be fought and our people defended. It was the right thing to do.

Can anyone imagine Mrs T wringing her hands in this way over Iran's seizure of our Marines?

IT'S been a tough month for the British Navy. On March 7, it learned that Tony Blair's Labor government was going ahead with drastic cuts in its budget and number of ships. By this time next year, the once-vaunted Royal Navy will be about the size of the Belgian Navy, while its officers face a five-year moratorium on all promotions.

If that wasn't demoralizing enough, last Friday the Iranian Navy seized a patrol boat containing 15 British sailors and Marines, claiming they'd crossed into Iranian waters. They're now hostages and may well go on trial as spies.

The latest report is that the Britons were ready to fight off their abductors. Certainly their escorting ship, HMS Cornwall, could have blown the Iranian naval vessel out of the water. However, at the last minute the British Ministry of Defense ordered the Cornwall not to fire, and her captain and crew were forced to watch their shipmates led away into captivity.

There was a question whether the Blair government would end up leaving Britain with a navy too small to protect its shores. Now it seems to want a navy that can't even protect its own sailors.

Nevermind the nuclear sub accident...

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 28, 2007 1:31 PM

WOW! Did you see the British female soldier displayed on Iranian TV today, contrary to Geneva Convention agreements? The CBC and CTV are on a non-stop binge, both decrying this outrage and demanding the UN investigate and take immediate action. The Globe & Mail and The Toronto Star are issuing special editions to rail against this travesty against international law.

Also, Amnesty International is holding a press conference this very minute, condemning the Mullahs as equivalent to the American barbarians who placed women's panties on the heads of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. This is so unbelievable to be happening simultaneously!

Hey! Wait a minute. I must have nodded off temporarily. Never mind.

Posted by: obc at March 28, 2007 1:50 PM

Time to teach the mullahs a lesson - kill every Iranian within 2 miles of the coast. EVERY one. And most of the mullahs to boot.

Iran wants to be an outlaw nation. Fine. Treat them like one.

Posted by: ratbert at March 28, 2007 2:00 PM

ratbert: Why kill coastal Iranians? Shouldn't we instead try to target something the mullahs care about... like, as you say, the mullahs?

Posted by: Just John at March 28, 2007 3:26 PM

Yeah, only we get to be an outlaw nation!

Posted by: oj at March 28, 2007 4:46 PM

Well it would have been a more interesting story had the HMS Cornwallis sunk the Iranian vessels, called in airstrikes on their coastal missile batteries, shot down their incoming warplanes and torpedoed their diesel electric subs, all in the space of two hours.

Posted by: KRS at March 28, 2007 5:07 PM

KRS: I'm not sure the Brits are up to that -- their navy is the smallest it's been since 1500. They could at least expel all Iranian diplomats, start reviewing Iranian visas, and announce they won't do business with any companies investing in or supplying Iran.

A high altitude B2 with our new 250 lb. SDB's (small diameter bombs) could certainly expose the Iranian mismanagement of their infrastructure. A few "accidents" on oil platforms, pumping facilities, refinery, and pipelines would seriously damage their wobbly economy, and could be attributed to their lack of maintenance and general incompetence.

Posted by: jd watson at March 28, 2007 6:57 PM

When unfolding incidents wike the foregoing are managed by diplomats and politicians thousands of miles from the scene, NOTHING HAPPENS--EVER.

What is needful is for the local, and I mean immediate military commander to have discretionary orders covering such situations. If a British patril boat had been entering disputed waters, a covering force should have been positioned and ready to cover it, without a permission slip from higher headquarters.

Remember, without this advance provision, nothing will happen.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 28, 2007 7:39 PM

Whether we or they like it, all the peoples under U.S. protection since WWII are now wards of the States.

Posted by: curt at March 28, 2007 10:21 PM

curt, you mean our wards.

Posted by: erp at March 30, 2007 2:57 PM