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Friday, March 30, 2007

Why is this not the solution re the 15 British hostages?

This is a serious question, not a rhetorical one. Someone tell me, please, why this is not the solution โ€” the obvious solution, and the solution that most obviously will work โ€” to end, on just and proper terms, the current controversy between Iran and Britain:


30 March 2007

Ambassador Rasoul Movahedian
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince's Gate
London SW7 1PT

Mr. Ambassador:

The Islamic Republic of Iran's seizure by armed force of 15 uniformed British sailors and marines from Iraqi territorial waters on 15 March 2007 was an unprovoked act of war against the United Kingdom. Our efforts to settle this dispute through peaceful means via the United Nations have been unavailing; you have unequivocally confirmed your unwillingness to participate in meaningful negotiations through that forum; and further proceedings there would obviously be futile.

Unless our personnel are returned to us unharmed by 11:59 o'clock p.m. London time on 2 April 2007, this Government will be obliged to conclude as of that date and time that a state of war has existed between the United Kingdom and the Islamic Republic of Iran since 15 March 2007.

In that event, we will, of course, be calling upon the U.K.'s allies, including but not limited to the United States of America, for such assistance as they and we deem prudent pursuant to our respective treaty obligations or otherwise.

Govern yourself accordingly.

/s/ Margaret Beckett
Foreign Secretary
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


Hon. Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Hon. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
General Secretary
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
Brussels, Belgium


(Extra credit assignment: This explains why the above won't be sent, but should be. Casus belli in a sentence: "If a non-nuclear Iran kidnaps foreign nationals in international waters [and gets away with it], we can imagine what a nuclear theocracy will do.")

Posted by Beldar at 05:51 PM in Global War on Terror | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Why is this not the solution re the 15 British hostages? and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) Jim Bender made the following comment | Mar 30, 2007 6:15:51 PM | Permalink

I agree that this is a reasonable response by the UK to this provcation by the Iranian Government. I do not believe that Tony Blair would do this, simply because it would be politically unacceptable in his party. This is too conservative a position for a European to consider doing. A 100 years ago, this would have been the response, even from a "Liberal" party government.

(2) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Mar 30, 2007 6:46:03 PM | Permalink

A little more than a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt made a similar statement when he thought an American citizen had been kidnapped by a group of Moroccan pirates. I think it would work well here with the names brought up to date:

"Her Majesty's government wants Leading Seaman Turney and her 14 compatriots alive or Ahmadinejad dead."

Deadline at their discretion.

Mr. Bender's analysis is likely right. Roosevelt would be furious. So should we be.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(3) DRJ made the following comment | Mar 30, 2007 9:24:47 PM | Permalink

That's a great letter. It would be equally effective if Tony Blair called the Iranian Ambassador to his office and delivered it verbally. It won't happen for the same reason Britain follows "de-escalatory" rules of engagement ... because they aren't willing to fight and Iran knows it.

(4) Mark L made the following comment | Mar 30, 2007 9:34:54 PM | Permalink

Thing is, this is an opportunity. We could launch airstrikes against Iran's nuclear sites as retaliation for their illegally holding these 15. We continue the strikes until they release the hostages, upping the ante by taking out Iran's military infrastructure, once we are done with their nuke sites. We can also freeze their air transportation, keeping them from resupplying Syria and Hezbollah.

It is not as if Iran can respond militarily to our air power. We can interdict any movement out of Iran by military forces with Mr. JDAMS and Mr. Predator. You saw what happened to the Taliban when they tried moving conventional forces.

(5) JS made the following comment | Mar 30, 2007 9:39:46 PM | Permalink

I generally lean to the hawkish. But I think such a response by the UK to this situation, would not be the correct one presently, and likely a stupid one.

I will note that such a response was not the American resonse, when the Iranians took down our embassy. That was more serious and more clear cut. Nor was it likely to be Regan's response in his first weeks/months in office, as I recall. But it wouldn't have been long.

However, I can see getting to that response if the Iranians do not over the course of the next month or two release the British sailors, or at any time they put them on kangaroo trial with the intention of imprisoning them.

Having said that, I am much interested to learn all of the military details of this affair. When I first saw the video and the chopper, I assumed that it was Iranian. Apparently not. I would like to know if there was a British naval officer in command of the boarding party that was taken into custody? Did he/she communicate with their base immediately before (knowing that Iranian forces were 'steaming' to them) or during the confrontation?

Exactly where was the Cornwallis and why didnt she intercede? Was she part of an American task force or British task force, was that TF commander apprised in real time, did that commander order her to stay clear or at least not take any Iranian forces under fire under any circumstances?

Like I said, I am curious to learn the military side of this fracas. Job one is to learn the precise rules of engagement the British sailors were under, and judge their actions in that light.

But I must say too, that the lack of 'taughtness' in the British kids surprises me some.

(6) hunter made the following comment | Mar 30, 2007 11:15:09 PM | Permalink

If President Carter had responded forcefully early, the 440+ days of illegal Iranian behavior would not have happened.
The pattern of Iranian behavior in breeching the rules is clear:
Rapid strike, misdirection. thetrical non-compliance of Geneva conventions. It all only happens because we enable it by our inaction. If we told them either the hostages freed unharmed post haste or their gasoline, power generation and aircraft grounded and or seized without notice, they would not paly these games.
Inspite of the PBS propaganda piece on Iran, they are predictable cowards.
We must stop enabling them.

(7) JS made the following comment | Mar 31, 2007 4:52:06 PM | Permalink

My previous blog was made prior to visiting link in Beldar's initial piece to V D Hnson's "House of Straw" commentary.

In my blog I am not understanding of how the Cornwallis can be onscene, a British helo hovering over the hostage taking as it is going down, and the evident slack attitude/posture of the British sailors. They had been ordered to not resist, to allow themselves be taken hostage. My interpretation of their actions and demeanor is, 'if the bosses don't care why should we. This is a joke.'

Now I am really shaking my head. British Command authority, no matter the facts on the ground, permitted it from minute one. Needless to say, I do not understand such a policy.

There is an age old naval custom called firing a shot across an errant actors' bow. It has ended many confrontations without bloodshed.

(8) nk made the following comment | Mar 31, 2007 9:15:29 PM | Permalink

Many more than 15 lives will be lost even in the most "limited" war between Britain and Iran.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal.

In World War II a German armored battalion advanced to the Swiss border. A German tank trespassed a few inches over that border. The sole Swiss border guard drew his pistol, aimed it at the tank and said "Move back". The German tank commander radioed Berlin for instructions. He was ordered: "Move back".

A single brave Swiss man and a thoughtful German man prevented a "diplomatic incident" and a war.

For whatever it's worth in this context.

(9) Tom made the following comment | Apr 1, 2007 10:42:49 AM | Permalink

I read an account a few days ago about the circumstances of the seizure of the fifteen sailors and marines. Apparently the Iranians moved in at precisely a predetermined moment, based upon their observation of previous boarding parties. The seizure occurred as the boarders were climbing down the side of the boarded ship, having completed their search of the vessel. Cornwall was lying off some distance (can't recall how far) on the opposite side of the ship, and could not see the seizure as it took place--by the time they were aware of it, their people were already in Iranian custody.

Having conducted perhaps a thousand board-and-search operation of sampans and junks as a US naval officer in the Mekong Delts, and having done a few of them from destroyers on the high seas, I find the whole thing rather appalling. On the face of it, I would say the skipper of Cornwall was negligent at the very least.

(10) JS made the following comment | Apr 1, 2007 12:17:16 PM | Permalink

Tom's post is interesting. But it doesn't account for two things. The British helo overhead (in the Iranian video) while the hostage seizure was taking taking place. And the fact that the boarding party must have had redundant means of talking to the Cornwall.

Unanswered questions for me are (1) confirmation that the helo in the video was British, (2) did she have guns and (3) what was the armament on the Cornwall?

My opinion remains that the boarding part communicated the situation to the Corwall, perhaps directly to the helo also, and were ordered to not resist whatsoever. This would explain for me the demeanor of the British sailors on the water and later, and perhaps even their agreeing that they were in Iranian waters.

Their are undoubtedly some Cornwall radio logs that will never see the light of day.

(11) Tom made the following comment | Apr 1, 2007 6:35:53 PM | Permalink

I have no info on the helo. I have been reading that the behavior of the Brits was consistent with their rules of engagement, which as I understand it are quite different from ours, and would seem to invite this sort of thing.

Cornwall herself has a 4.8" rapid-fire gun and two 20mm machine guns, which when properly deployed would make short work of the kind of watercraft used by the Iranians on this occasion. There is certain to be an abundance of small arms on board, including any number of automatic weapons. This was not a question of their being unsuitably equipped to engage.

(12) JS made the following comment | Apr 1, 2007 7:22:22 PM | Permalink

I would think it SOP for the British to have a helo in the air over a boarding. If so it would be reasonable to expect it had weapons. And if so, it had to see the Iranians coming a long way off.

Its hard not to conclude that the British rules of engagement are, no engagement whatsoever, under any circumstances without approval from London.

It must have been tea time somewhere.

(13) Tom made the following comment | Apr 2, 2007 8:41:48 AM | Permalink

HMS Cornwall is a frigate. Comparable ships in the US Navy have helicopters--two, in the ones I am most familiar with--on board. However, they are not gunships. Although the helo people are saying they have seen in the Iranian video may well have been from Cornwall, it is highly unlikely that they have a helo aloft for every single boarding, unless the boarding are very rare, which I understand is not the case. I think the principal mistake was in standing off on the opposite side from the re-entry into the boats, which is when the boarders are at their most vulnerable. Had they been on the same side of the boarded vessel, they could readily have dissuaded the Iranians from approaching their people--a few 20mm bursts across the bows would have sufficed. But God knows what British rules provide these days.

(14) JS made the following comment | Apr 4, 2007 12:02:51 PM | Permalink

The British sailors are freed, it is reported.

The question, of course, is if the Brits agreed that they were in Iranian waters when captured and that no future ship searches will occurr there. In other words, siding with Iran, to the detriment of Iraq, over where the Shatt el Arab boudary is. I believe Iran claims the whole mouth of the river.

(15) Gary Denton made the following comment | Apr 5, 2007 2:34:09 AM | Permalink

Except they were not in Iraqi waters.


(16) JS made the following comment | Apr 6, 2007 12:00:00 PM | Permalink

Additional information on this incident. Whereas previoulsy, I was skeptical of the British on scene reaction to the Iranian operation, I am much less so based on the following which I take to be credible (right now). Some interesting questions remain, namely the role of the British helo leaving the scene.

Lt. Carman went on: "On Friday 23 March I along with 14 of my colleagues were part of a routine boarding patrol. We deployed from HMS Cornwall in two Rigid Inflatable Boats and patrolled into an area south of the Shatt Al Arab waterway. This was meant to be a routine boarding operation and followed approximately 66 similar such boardings over the previous four weeks.

"We approached an unidentified merchant vessel that our supporting helicopter had identified as worth investigation. We carried out a completely compliant boarding with the full cooperation of the Master and crew. The RM secured the vessel and the RN element of the boarding party then arrived and commenced a thorough search of the ship. This was in complete accordance with our UN mandate and as part of an International Coalition.

"We were equipped with Xeres true navigational equipment and hand held GPS for backup. The helicopter in support provided continuous navigational confirmation and we were also linked to HMS Cornwall who were monitoring our exact position at all times. Let me make it absolutely clear, irrespective of what has been said in the past, when we were detained by the IRG we were inside internationally recognized Iraqi territorial waters and I can clearly state we were 1.7 nautical miles from Iranian waters."

Capt. Air continued: "It was during the boarding that we noticed the helicopter had returned to 'Mother,' and we started calling the ship on VHF to find out why. A short while later two speed boats were spotted approaching rapidly about 400 meters away.

"I ordered everyone to make their weapons ready and ordered the boarding party to return to the boats. By the time all were back on board, two Iranian boats had come alongside. One officer spoke good English and I explained that we were conducting a routine operation, as allowed under a UN mandate.

"But when we tried to leave, they prevented us by blocking us in. By now it was becoming increasingly clear that they had arrived with a planned intent.

"Some of the Iranian sailors were becoming deliberately aggressive and unstable. They rammed our boat and trained their heavy machine guns, RPGs and weapons on us.

"Another six boats were closing in on us. We realized that our efforts to reason with these people were not making any headway. Nor were we able to calm some of the individuals down.

"It was at this point that we realized that had we resisted there would have been a major fight, one we could not have won with consequences that would have had major strategic impact. We made a conscious decision to not engage the Iranians and do as they asked. They boarded our boats, removed our weapons and steered the boats towards the Iranian shore."

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