Burning Issues No. 28: Iran-UK showdown

Question #28
Are you surprised by the relatively low-key reaction to Iran's kidnapping of the British soldiers? How do you see this crisis unfolding? Contributers: (read it all or click on name to read post; link to writer's most recent column follows entry)
  • Saul Singer
  • David Horovitz
  • Calev Ben-David
  • Jonathan Tobin Saul Singer: Yes, it is surprising that it is not getting more attention. The only explanation is a British decision to play this low-key, which may have been a mistake. The British could have gone to the Security Council and gotten a resolution demanding their immediate and unconditional release, assuming the reports that they have proof that their soldiers were in Iraqi waters are correct. Iran would probably reject such a resolution, but it would strengthen Britain's hand in taking whatever measures it deems necessary to gain the hostages release. What should not be allowed to happen is a replay of the hostage crisis of 1979, when the Carter Administration allowed Americans seized by the Iranians to remain captive for over a year. As always, the mullahs are testing Western willingness to defend themselves against Iranian aggression. Interesting Times: Getting to work David Horovitz: The British plainly preferred to hope that they'd be able to sort this out quietly, behind-the-scenes. The British media and the families evidently felt the same. There was none of the Israeli-style media blitz at the homes of the relatives, no personal dramas and tears played out on the nightly news or in the daily papers. But the assumption, or at least the hope, that common decency would quickly prevail, and that the 15 would be swiftly freed, has crashed headlong into the cynical ruthlessness of the Iranian regime. It's a bitter lesson for the British about the some of the norms in our neighborhood. We'll see how this episode plays out, but plainly this Iranian leadership is on a determined collision course with the free world and its values, and the sooner the free world internalizes the extent of the threat, the better. Editor's Notes: No happy ending Calev Ben-David: The initial low-key reaction was not surprising, because this is how the UK reacted after a similar incident in 2004 when eight British sailors were taken prisoner by Iran, and only released after "confessing" that they had trespassed into Iranian waters. What actually is surprising now are the growing signs this time that Prime Minister Tony Blair will take a tougher stance toward Teheran in the current crisis. The releasing of evidence showing the sailors were in Iraqi waters when captured, the freezing of UK-Iran ties, and the hint by Blair of more aggressive actions if the sailors are not released soon, already push the current situation several layers beyond what happened three years ago. The likely reason is that London correctly perceives that the Iranians are holding the sailors hostage as a tactic in its conflict with the international community over its nuclear program, and possibly as a bargaining chip for its intelligence agents arrested earlier on in Iraq. More surprising - or not - is the way some of the international media have been covering this crisis. It's incredible that only on Wednesday did the International Herald-Tribune finally put the story on page one. Several media outlets seem intent on downplaying this story, because perhaps because they are uncomfortable focusing on the increasingly extreme actions of Ahmadinijad's regime, as it doesn't jibe with an editorial outlook that rejects wholesale whatever policies the Blair and Bush administrations are taking in response to the threat of Islamic extremism in the region. This is THE story right now in the region, certainly far more important than some of the recent maneuverings in the Israeli-Arab peace process. Snap Judgment My day in court Jonathan Tobin: It is difficult to be surprised at the lack of outrage about Iran's latest provocation. Most of the media as well as many in government in the United States and elsewhere have been slow to realize the danger from the Tehran regime and its leadership. The bulk of the chattering classes are focused solely on hampering the allied war effort in Iraq. Many are also doing all that they can to downplay the threat of the Iranian nuclear weapons program and its aggressive role in both Iraq and throughout the region via surrogates like Hizbullah and allies like Hamas. The Iranians believe that both America and Britain are too preoccupied in Iraq and too divided at home to mount an effective challenge to their bid to expand their sphere of influence. The recent decision of the United Nations to move toward more sanctions on Iran - ineffective as that measure is - may have encouraged some here to think that Teheran can be contained, but the kidnapping of the British marines shows that this regime thinks they are dealing with paper tigers. Iran has profited before from hostage-taking and they must believe there is little likelihood that the West can or will act decisively. Though we must hope that the Iranians can be persuaded to back down quickly, if they are rewarded in any manner for releasing their captives, it will be a terrible setback. It would encourage them to not only seek out other victims but even more dangerously, it will convince Teheran that its nuclear and terrorist programs need fear no strong check from the West. View From America: Standing against the tide