Friday, March 30, 2007

Scoring Own Goals

The crisis over the British sailors looks increasingly like a hostage crisis, but one in which Iran has taken more than it can handle.

The Facts

The simple fact is that proof is on the British government’s side, as shown on the BBC website. The sailors were in Iraqi waters, Period.

Respecting the Guests

While I understand the British and Americans had little qualms about parading Iraqi prisoners on TV, their violations of the Geneva Convention does not justify Iran’s violation. Parading the British hostages on TV, refusing access to them, and extracting “confession” are all unacceptable.

In addition to this, I find it despicable that the Iranians forced the British sailor woman to cover her hair. At the very least, it is disrespectful.


This latest hostage crisis falls within wider power games, especially in the context of the recent Arab Summit. The Iranians may claim that it is their own diplomats and military are made prisoners in Iraq, but this misses the point; two wrongs do not make one right, especially when Iran needs all the support it can get.

There may already be some consequences, and not just in the West, where the Iranian “hardliners are only making the neoconservative case in Washington and Israel for them”, and may even create a unified European position against them.

There have been a few warning signs, when some Russians officials started commenting that “Iran's defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency has caused Russia to suffer losses in relation to its foreign policy and image”. The Iranians would have been well advised to heed them.

With the current developments, the Russians and the Chinese cannot remain indifferent; while they have no qualms about breaking a few International Conventions of their own, they do not appreciate it when others break them. The Russians, in particular, appear to be trying to take advantage of Iran’s increasing isolation by… rising prices.

Or is the row with Russia a sign that Iran really strapped for cash?


ghassan karam said...

The big five nuclear powers will not be able to maintain their monopoly indefinitely.Proliferation is at the phase where it might just explode and spread uncontrollably. If that happens then the probability of a global nuclear disaster increase immeasurably.

This race to acquire nuclear weapons is directly related to the break down in the old two super powers balance of terror. For close to twenty years the unipolar world has presented serious security challenges to those that feel that the world policeman has abused its powers and acted unjustly. Non of this however, excuses the double standards that are being applied by the present nuclear club whose power will be diluted once others build "the bomb". The solution is to adopt a program of phased denuclearisation of the world if we expect others to refrain from pursuing the nuclear genie.

I believe that both N. Korea and Iran have miscalculated by assuming that China and Russia will support their respective programs. Both Russia and China will support positions that will make life uncomfortable for the US but neither Russia nor China welcome the introduction of an unstable nuclear power in their neighborhood. N. Korea appears to have learned that lesson and I hope that Iran will also decide to come clean and offer gaurantees that it has no military nuclear ambitions. No amount of money can persuade the Russians to welcome another nuclear power at its border.

Jeha said...


Indeed, the Russians cannot tolerate an islamic country with the bomb; they barely tolerate Pakistan. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Kazakhstan was, for a brief time, trying to emulate Ukraine and assert claims on the missiles located on bases in its soil. The Russians sent them a clear message by "test-firing" on of those missiles remotely. The Kazakhs got the message, and were more than willing to cede to US plans to "disarm" their arsenal.

I also feel that, in this age of biotech, nuclear weapons are a poor vector if you are really crazy and going for mass destruction. Sure, the mushroom cloud looks impressive, but the costs in maintain an entire infrastructure in production, maintenance, vectoring, and guidance are horrendous. Bacterias or toxins are far cheaper in comparison, and far less "traceable".

I guess dictators are no different from other leaders in that they are also ignorant about history and misinformed about facts because of all the scare syncophants, and thus find themselves always fighting the last war. Luckily for us, by the time they learn, it is too late for them.

On another note, this is much like scientific research in some respect. Did you notice how ideas in a given last about the life span of the leading authority? Another side effect is that there is some repetetion going on, as newbies only focus on the "latest research", and unwittling recycle old ideas, and remake old mistakes...

ghassan karam said...

We know that Iran has captured 15 British troop in the contested area of Shut AlArab on the pretense that the British soldiers had crossed into the Iranian territorial waters. But what is not clear yet, at least to this observor, is the rationale that has led to this growing international crisis. Whether the British were , as they claim, in Iraqi territorial waters or whether they had crossed into Iranian waters is not very significant in itself. Iranian authorities have deliberately acted to create this crisis. Why did they do so? Logic dictates that no one will willingly undertake an action that is not deemed to be beneficial. This suggests that the Iranian authorities who planned and carried through this action did so because the arrest was seen as beneficial to the Iranian authorities. Why does the regime of Ahmadinajjad feel that this incident is worthwhile?

1. It will be a stretch to assume that this incident ; capturing 15 British troops; is sufficient to upset a planned military attack by the US and its allies.

2. Holding these British army personnel would not change the plans of the UNSC to tighten its embargo on Iran.

3. Iran's international standing and its isolation will not be helped by this act.

Based on the above it appears that the motivation for this crisi is purely domestic politics. Ahmadinajjad is increasingly seen as bombastic and irresponsible. He has in a short period of time undone all the shine that his predecessor, Khatemi; has restored to the international standing and international image of Iran. He has alienated the Russians to such an extent that they have refused to provide the nuclear fuel to start the only nuclear power plant in Iran and there is even talk about dissatisfaction by the supreme leader , Khamenei, with the international performance of Ahmadinajjad. If the above is true then the current crisi regarding the 15 British soldiers will only hurt the foreign policy image of Iran but will help distract domestic attention from the troubles with the UNSC, the IAEA and the Russian refusal to complete the nuclear power plant. Could thsi spiral out of control as to bring about an internal coup that will replace Mr. Ahmadinajjad by Ayatollah Khatemi? I am taking bets and the odds are 50, 50:-)

Jeha said...

I agree, but I can't bet;

While I feel this has already spiralled out of control, I do not think an internal coup is simple/straight forward in Iran. The reason is that therre are found main "currents" in that country, almost all equally matched;

- Mullahs/Bazaris; aside from some hypocrits like Khatami, most are corrupt beyond hope, like Rafsanjani.

- Pasdaran/Bassiji, mostly "true beleivers" like Ahmadinejad. He was a competent Mayor of Teheran before creating this whole mess; maybe part of it is due to his inability to push his reform agenda.

- Middle-class Iranians who actually make the economy work, while the first two are propped by oil prices.

- The sizeable minorities; Kurds, Azeris, Baluchis, and Arabs.

Any coup could upset the balance among those groups, and plunge Iran into a civil war. There are already signs of some trouble in Arabstan and Kurdistan, adding to the ongoing low-level war in the East of the country between the armed forces/police and "smugglers"..

Anonymous said...

True, Russia and China don't like the idea of Iran joining the nuclear club BUT if they have to choose between this and the US controlling the Middle east and the oil sources, they will choose a nuclear Iran. All the rest is political gesticulation.
Russia supports Iran while publicly scolding it exactly like China supports (indeed much more than that) NKorea while publicly scolding it: haydi kella Masrahyyeh.

Roman Kalik said...

I think this particular fiasco has a lot to do with the recent, ah, "kidnapping" of the esteemed general. A lot of necks are itching now, I suspect, as AJ may just give in to internal pressure as well as do some internal purging of "independent elements" to remove some external pressure. The transition from assent to liability is a painful one, and what better way to stop it than create some distractions?

But of course, this is purely guesswork. But I suspect that it has a grain of truth.

Jeha said...


But I fear the added effect of stupidity; misunderstanding one's enemy's needs can lead to grave miscalculations. This whole thing was based on the Iranian mis-reading of the West. Another example is what could be a side effect of the Russian attitude may be to bring Iran closer to having the bomb; even if this was not a "masrahyeh", the Russians may well be playing with fire... The heirs of Ivan Grozny and Tarass Boulba may well be forgetting their own history... Time will tell.

There is also the side-effect of perceived disenfranchisement, where some may feel closer to "outsiders" than to fellow citizens. This is demonstrated in Lebanon, where people voice support for foreign enemies, insisting that, while Syria threatens and kills our leaders, we should avoid tuning into "a base for activities that would harm Syria or Iran."

I see some evidence of this in Iran, as an increasing proportion of the population feels disenfranchised, a growing number is not feeling Iranian anymore, and could soon provide increased support for whoever undermines what they see is an oppressive state.

Roman Kalik said...

I doubt the Russians understand Iran. Hell, I doubt any of us here truly understand Iran, but the Russians win the prize for being totally clueless. A lot of what Putin is doing now appears to me as setting a stage for the local folk to watch. The new Great Leader hs still a bit lacking in the greatness department, and to break the constitution he must first build his image.

The problem starts, of course, when the actors threaten to set fire to the theater.

ghassan karam said...

Anon 11:24
I do not find overly general statements very helpful. What do you mean when you speak of US control of oil in the ME? Is the US taking oil without paying for it or is the US placing any restrictions on access to oil? Furthermore what is your reasoning about why Russia would rather have a nuclear Iran at its border than a democratic Iraq? As for China the evidence contradicts your position 100%; China would like to keep N Korea as a client state but will side with the US in order to stop it from becoming a nuclear power.