The seizure of 15 British sailors by the Iranian mullahtocracy has western governments and media outlets guessing. The timing of this act has been duly noted; only a day before a United Nations security council vote on sanctions. An article on the Wall Street Journal opinion page unequivocally labeled Iran's aggression an act of war. In a piece titled Tehran's Hostages, the Journal cites multiple instances in which Iran has resorted to hostage-taking, most notably that of the American embassy in 1979. These seemingly emotional, reactionary and random acts smack of immaturity, caprice and insecurity. Ultimately, they amount to a series of attempts by an inferior regime to project what limited power it has, and perhaps stir up the jingoistic sentiments among its citizenry. The Journal writes:
In an earlier day, what Iran has done would have been universally regarded as an act of war. It was a premeditated act, carried out only hours before Britain voted to stiffen sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program in a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution. Iran captured a smaller detachment of British forces in the same waters in 2004, claiming they had strayed across the Iranian border.
Earlier this month, the Sunday Times of London reported that the Revolutionary Guards newspaper Subhi Sadek suggested seizing "a nice bunch of blue-eyed blond-haired officers and feed them to our fighting cocks." One possible motive: The apparent defection by Revolutionary Guards commander Ali Reza Asgari, who disappeared in Istanbul last month and is said to know a great deal about Iran's nuclear program. The Iranians may now be using their hostages as payback for General Asgari's defection--or as ransom for his return.
...they may figure that Prime Minister Tony Blair is willing to pay a steep price to secure release of the sailors before he leaves office later this year.
Or perhaps the Iranians want to bargain with Mr. Blair's successor, presumably Chancellor Gordon Brown, whom they might suspect would take a softer line at the U.N. They may also be trying to create a rift between the U.S. and U.K. by offering to trade the British troops for Iranians the U.S. has recently detained inside Iraq.
...the Iranian leadership may be seeking to draw Britain (and the U.S.) into limited military skirmishes that they think could shore up domestic support against widening popular discontent.
...sufficiently bloodying Coalition forces in Iraq to hasten their withdrawal. The mullahs might even hope any fighting would embolden Democrats to do Tehran's bidding by passing legislation that forbids the Administration from attacking Iran without prior Congressional permission. Such a plank was contained in the supplemental war spending bill that passed the House last week until cooler heads removed it.
As with the 1979 hostage crisis, how Britain and the rest of the civilized world respond in the early days of the crisis will determine how long it lasts. Britain has already demanded the safe and immediate return of its personnel; they will have to make clear that its foreign policy will not be held hostage to the mullahs.
Most important, the world should keep in mind that Iran has undertaken this latest military aggression while it is still a conventional military power. That means that Britain and the U.S. can still respond today with the confidence that they maintain military superiority. That confidence will vanish the minute Iran achieves its goal of becoming a nuclear power. Who knows what the revolutionaries in Tehran will then be capable of.