I haven’t weighed in yet on what’s probably the most serious story of the day—the seizing of 15 British sailors by the Iranians off the coast of Iraq:
FIFTEEN British sailors and marines arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards off the coast of Iraq may be charged with spying.
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.”
The warning followed claims by Iranian officials that the British navy personnel had been taken to Tehran, the capital, to explain their “aggressive action” in entering Iranian waters. British officials insist the servicemen were in Iraqi waters when they were held.
The penalty for espionage in Iran is death. However, similar accusations of spying were made when eight British servicemen were detained in the same area in 2004. They were paraded blindfolded on television but did not appear in court and were freed after three nights in detention.
Ed Morissey notes that trying the British sailors for espionage would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions—in uniform, they are by definition not spies.
My initial reaction to this story was that it was a case of an over-zealous Iranian ship’s captain being exploited for domestic political consumption. I continue to think that the actions by the Iranian government are mostly for domestic political consumption but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to sustain the notion that the actions weren’t orchestrated. That’s certainly the view articulated by Walid Phares.
A little while ago I heard former UN Ambassador John Bolton being interviewed on ABC’s GMA Weekend. He observed that yesterday’s actions by the UNSC were probably about as far as the UNSC could be induced to go in putting pressure on Iran and did a little saber rattling. Frankly, I don’t think that’s particularly helpful nor necessary. We wield by far the biggest stick in the world and can afford to speak a little more softly. I also think that the recent past of lots of big talk without a great deal of follow-through has undermined our ability to make meaningful threats.
As I see it the Iranian regime needs to shoot off their mouths more than we do so we should be tolerant of a certain amount of braggadocio from them. Not infinitely tolerant but tolerant.
PJM reports that MNF forces are currently hold some 300 prisoners in Iraq connected to Iranian intelligence. That’s probably not gone unnoticed in Tehran and their truculent attitude in the case of the 15 British sailors they’ve taken prisoner is probably a sign that they’re feeling the heat.