Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Iranians Humiliated?

Ahmadinejad releases Brits
(Photo: Iranian TV screenshot)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today announced that his country would release the 15 British sailors and marines that his country captured nearly two weeks ago. He made the surprise announcement at a press conference. It was apparently preceded by one of his infamous tirades, in which he harangued Britain for bringing the case up before the Security Council and complained about the invasion of Iraq.

Even if Ahmadinejad dressed it up as a "present" from the Iranian to the British people, I wonder how many Iranians will be convinced that the abduction was a smart move. There should be no doubt that Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials who supported this operation have suffered a humiliating defeat. On this matter, I could not disagree more with Zvi Bar'el, who sees the whole episode as a victory for Iran. According to the Ha'aretz writer, the British reliance on diplomatic means
will now be used by Iran as proof that even powers such as the U.S. and Britain are limited in their ability to use force when it comes to a minor border incident - and that the threat Iran poses is precisely in initiating local incidents that are not sufficiently important to lead to war.
I see no evidence for this. If this is what the Iranians have concluded, they will continue to make serious miscalculations. At the end of the day, the whole operation was for naught; I cannot see the slightest tangible gain that Iran might have derived from it.

True, the Guardian reports "speculation that the release was prompted in part by an agreement to let an Iranian representative meet five Iranians detained by US forces in Irbil, northern Iraq, in January." However, even if the Iranians obtained the rights to visit their diplomats or intelligence agents, no one is going to confirm this. Especially after the announcements by President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair that there would be "no quid pro quo," it will be difficult for the Iranians to point to any sort of favorable outcome. The British have repeatedly presented their GPS evidence to the Iranians and to international bodies; in the court of international opinion, the U.K.'s insistence that its troops were "well inside Iraqi waters" is likely to prevail.

Some might argue that at least the Iranians demonstrated their abilities to cause trouble for coalition forces. I would respond, however, that the British will be much more careful from now in all their patrols. They are unlikely to allow their troops to be captured again without some resistance. As for Iranian meddling in Basra and elsewhere in Iraq, it continues to harm coalition and Iraqi forces. But all this was clear before the Revolutionary Guards brushed up on their Piracy 101 skills. The statement by one British crew member, who thanked Ahmadinejad for his "forgiveness" will be seen by the world for what it is - Byzantine manipulation by a weak regime desperate to cover up its silly miscalculation.

In retrospect, it appears that the British did the right thing. By staying calm but not backing down on their core positions (at least not in public), they called Iran's bluff. When I heard about the release of the British troops, I wondered if the case might be instructive for other abduction scenarios - such as the one that sparked the Second Lebanon War. But I think that this is not the type of lesson we can draw from this particular incident. The kind of poker game that the British and Iranians were playing relies on the rules of the international system that regulates interactions between states.

Matters change dramatically when states are confronted with non-state actors. As much as I would criticize the nature of Israel's military response to the abductions of its soldiers, first by a Palestinian faction in the south and then by Hizbullah in the north - a response which ultimately proved ineffective - I don't think Israel could have obtained the kind of outcome that the British achieved. Neither the Palestinian factions nor Hizbullah respond to the threats of international sanctions. Their interests cannot be easily damaged, except by direct military confrontation. And even then, the options are very limited and likely to prove unsuccessful.


Afshin said...

I'm not sure 'humiliation' is apt here. But then again, this is the sort of response I've been seeing . . .

arielron said...

I'm so perplexed by this whole episode. On the one hand, I wonder what the particular Iranians who engineered this incident were going for, and whether they feel that they've succeeded in any way. On the other hand, I'm not sure how to interpret the relatively muted response offered by Bush and Co.? In recent weeks, it seems, a considerable number of alternative media pundits have claimed that the Bushies are maneuvering for war with Iran. But if that were really the case, wouldn't they have made much more of this thing than they did? Does this then mean that we can safely assume there are no plans for broadening the conflict?

Anonymous said...

What about the 11,000 Palestinians who are held captive by the Israeli occupation? They were kidnapped from their own homes by an army that has no right to be there. Or is it only a handful of westerners that are people with families and lives that matter?

zionism is racism said...


they don't count. There not jews so there lives are meaningless. Only Gods chosen people matter and have lives. The rest are animals.

Bhumika Ghimire said...

hello..which world do u live in?..from what i saw it is rest of world which was humiliated..president of Iran is a clever manipulator and knows how to work the PR machine..he is now sitting in Tehran and smiling over his success while US and UK scratch their head in disbelief..

Anonymous said...

The US and UK are occupying another people's country and have killed almost a million of them. The US also has gone around the world kidnapping and holding thousands at Guantanamo, Bagram, and Abu-Ghraib, and torturing them in the process. All the British soldiers had to do was make a few videos.

What world are YOU living in?

You need to learn the non-westerners and non-Jews are people also with the same rights as anyone else. Do you understand?