Sunday, March 25, 2007

Persian Capriciousness

By now, the news that Iran has seized 15 Royal Navy sailors is well known. This latest act of aggression by Iran is only the most flagrant and well-publicized. It is less well known that Iran has been training Shi'a death squads, which operate extensively throughout Iraq. Recently, it has also been revealed that Iran has begun to directly finance breakaway elements of Sadr's Mahdi Army. It is also less well known that the U.S. and Britain are holding some 300 Iranian nationals who have been caught spying, collecting intelligence, and training militants within Iraq.

First, it is quite hypocritical for Iran to seize British soldiers for allegedly crossing into Iranian waters. Iranian soldiers have been guilty of the same offense on numerous occasions, even opening fire on American and Iraqi troops within Iraqi territory.

Second, Iran's ignominious seizure of British sailors, and decision to try them for espionage is only a tactic to gain a "bargaining chip" and recover its own captured citizens, including many high-level generals.

Yet, Iran may have bitten off more than it can chew. The U.S. is highly unlikely to hand over Iranians that have been legitimately captured by coalition forces in Iraq. The dubious nature of the Brits' capture should shame the Iranian regime.

Iran should also be seriously concerned.

For one, an American military commander has said that Americans will not allow themselves to be taken without a fight if it comes to that. Overt Iranian aggression toward American servicemen would not be wise, considering two U.S. aircraft carriers are floating nearby. Indeed, the French have their own nuclear carrier in the Arabian sea, well within striking distance. Although Iran may not be concerned about French aggression, the recent coordinated American and French war games should give them pause.

Curiously, as Iran spends a great deal of resources in Iraq, its economy is in poor shape; inflation is out of control, oil must be imported and taxed, and payments to Russia for the nuclear plant it is building have been suspended. Russia's bills have gone unpaid, leaving Iran deserted at the U.N. Fresh sanctions passed this weekend will cause the regime only further suffering. Iran lacks fiscal discipline, raising questions about the wisdom of its recent bellicosity.

Similarly, it's impossible to know British or American intentions. Britain may have deliberately put the sailors in a compromising position to provoke Iran. British and American forces may be trying to gauge Iran's responsiveness and readiness... and increase its state of paranoia. This may be the response that was hoped for. If Iran proceeds to prosecute the British sailors, Britain may feel the need to recover its citizens.

Iran's shameful act is not surprising. The regime was born amidst the seizure of the American embassy. Iran captured British troops in 2004 who were eventually released. Unfortunately for Iran, the geopolitical stakes have been raised due to new realities. The Iranian regime's obstinacy over its nuclear program should be an embarrassment by now.

Surely Ahmadinejad is losing sleep. The time for the Iranian opposition to step up political pressure is now.

Ahmadinejad and the mullahs have pulled the wool over their own eyes. They are attempting to place themselves on equal footing with two superpowers - The United States of America and Great Britain. To say this is a fatal miscalculation is an understatement.

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