Editor's Notes: The great humanitarian

Ahmadinejad played a blinder by freeing the 15 British sailors to coincide with Easter.

ahmadinejad smiles298.88 (photo credit: AP)
ahmadinejad smiles298.88
(photo credit: AP)
In every generation, we read just four days ago, enemies rise up to try and destroy us. The current crop is particularly pernicious. By Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's telling, his regime walks with the angels. Humane, freedom-loving Iran is, incomprehensibly, beset by Western aggressors. They seek to deny its energy needs. They aim to damage its economy. They threaten its land. They invade its waters. But Iran will not be drawn from the path of warmth and wisdom and loving-kindness. All it seeks, says its gentle president, "is peace and security from the Almighty for all human beings." It is baffled by American and British hostility, but it will not respond in kind. Instead, in an act of selfless decency, it will release the 15 British sailors who compromised its sovereignty, asking nothing in return other than that they not now be punished by their cold-hearted superiors back in the UK. It will only lament that they have been reduced to such acts of war by their misguided government; that they, simple souls led astray, have been forced unwittingly to such lengths of aggression merely to earn their livings; that there is even a woman among their number, a mother, pried from her family by these heartless aggressors to confront a humble nation that means them no harm. The worst of it, of course, is the degree to which this is being lapped up in the Arab world, where Iran is perceived to have easily outmaneuvered the UK, and far beyond - deep into the West. In danger of being overshadowed by Ahmadinejad's gracious "Easter gift" is the fact that the 15 were kidnapped beyond Iran's waters - as Teheran's own initial coordinates confirmed - in a deliberate act of provocation the day after another UN resolution condemning its nuclear drive was passed. Brushed away altogether is Hizbullah's unprovoked Iranian-armed and Iranian-inspired murderous assault on Israel's sovereign territory last summer. Ignored, too, of course, is Iran's continued oversight of the imprisonment of Lebanon war captives Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and of Hamas's abductee Gilad Schalit, along with Ron Arad and other previous MIAs, whose release is not contemplated until maximal psychological damage can be achieved and the maximal price extracted. Unavoidable, even amid the relief in the UK, is how Iran is relentlessly encouraging the murder of British and other troops in Iraq - four more British soldiers were killed near Basra just before the 15 flew home. But at risk of being forgotten is Iran's ruthless suppression of its political opponents at home and its export of an Islamic extremist ideology of indiscriminate killing worldwide; it is less than two years since Iranian-inspired terrorism produced a quadruple suicide bombing in central London that killed 52 innocent people. Some commentators have suggested that Ahmadinejad was forced to "climb down" by the real authority in Iran, supreme spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that it was realized that the 15 Brits would soon become a liability given international potential to ratchet up sanctions, and that Ahmadinejad was told to let them go before matters got out of hand. Maybe so. But in the bitterly admiring sporting vernacular of British Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, Ahmadinejad "played a blinder" and won the day, showing apparent pragmatism, generosity and religious sensitivity in releasing the 15 to coincide with Easter - in clear contrast, for instance, to the heavy-handed and religiously ill-timed execution of Saddam Hussein at the start of the Id al-Adha festival. Perhaps most importantly, the resolution of the affair has been hyped by the British government as a victory for its diplomacy. This is not without justification, and it enables Westminster to slap itself on the back and hail the traditional virtues of quiet leverage - the "firm but calm approach," as described by Prime Minister Tony Blair. "What do we learn from all this?" Sky News's presenters were asking themselves on Wednesday evening, as they broadcast footage of the soon-to-be-freed 15 being presented to the smiling Ahmadinejad. That "talking works," came the response from one of the station's veteran anchors and reporters, Jeremy Thompson. Up to a point. The danger is that with diplomacy seemingly vindicated, there may now be a temptation to rely exaggeratedly on its employment again, to try afresh to talk to Iran without urgent resort to means of greater pressure as it continues its unstinting march toward nuclear power, even as time runs out on thwarting that ambition. Moreover, while the incident will prompt a greater wariness and suspicion of Iran in some quarters, Teheran's cleverly orchestrated magnanimity in the case of the 15 will encourage, in others, the belief that maybe this regime isn't quite so mad, quite so extreme after all. Perhaps there is some merit in its assertion that it has a national right to nuclear technology, it will be argued. Perhaps it does seek nuclear power for solely peaceful purposes. Perhaps all that talk of wiping out Israel is more wishful thinking than statement of intent. Abduct British military personnel who are engaged in seeking to achieve stability in a region that you are determinedly destabilizing. Extract "confessions" from them and play propaganda games with their relatives back home. Set them free with new suits, sweets and souvenirs after having them apologize for their aggression and praise your humane response to their crime. And leave their government with an apparent reminder of the virtues of traditional diplomacy - a reminder which will hopefully deter the more forceful action that had begun gathering pace and that stands between you and the WMD capabilities you seek in order to dominate your region. Oh yes, Ahmadinejad played a blinder.