Sunday, April 1, 2007

When Everyone's Backed Into A Corner

There were signs yesterday that the standoff over the 15 British sailors captured and detained by Iran was beginning to ratchet down a notch or two. Reports out of Tehran revealed the first signs of disagreement between the hardline Revolutionary Guards who carried out the operation and the ayatollahs who run the country, specifically over whether or not to release Faye Turney, the lone woman captive, as a gesture of good faith.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph reported that Britain was preparing to send an envoy to Tehran, and a defense official was quoted as saying:

We are quite prepared to give the Iranians a guarantee that we would never knowingly enter their waters without their permission, now or in the future.

We are not apologising, nor are we saying that we entered their waters in the first place. But it may offer a route out of the crisis.

But there were also signs that things could still get bumpy. After keeping a low profile for the past week, President Bush finally offered his first extensive comments on the matter, calling the capture of the sailors "inexcusable" and stating, "The Iranians must give back the hostages."

The same article also quoted remarks that Iran's President Ahmadinejad made in a speech, remarks that seemed to signal a hardening of the Iranian position:

"The British occupier forces did trespass our waters. Our border guards detained them with skill and bravery,'' Iran's official news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. "But arrogant powers, because of their arrogant and selfish spirit, are claiming otherwise.''

And in Tehran, police had to physically prevent protesters from entering the compound of the British embassy yesterday.

All in all, although it's in everyone's best interests to de-escalate and peaceably resolve the conflict, it's becoming the kind of situation that could spiral out of control, mainly because of the inherent weakness of everyone involved:

  1. Iran is using the show of national resolve to counter both their inability to keep British and American forces from entering their territory, and their increasing international isolation over their uranium enrichment program.
  2. Britain must balance the affront to its national honor with the fact that it has very few effective options for forcing Tehran's hand.
  3. And the United States can't risk disrupting the gathering consensus opposing Iran's uranium enrichment program by any heavyhanded involvement in a matter that ostensibly doesn't really involve them.

In other words, everyone's boxed into a corner, which is usually when people do desperate things. There's no shortage of third parties who have offered themselves up as mediators. Hopefully someone will have the sense to bring them in, otherwise things could get volatile.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iran   

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