Iran has upped the diplomatic, rhetorical and quite possibly military ante with its capture of 15 British sailors and its threat to put them on trial.

This and Iran’s vow Sunday to continue working on its nuclear program despite tougher U.N. sanctions either reflect the regime’s desire for brinksmanship — or it’s an attempt to raise the bargaining stakes.

In recent weeks, various news reports have indicated that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been under political fire for his confrontational political line that has accentuated tensions between Iran and the United States, for his comments about the holocaust, and for his rhetoric that has brought increased sanctions against Iran, which is quickly becoming a “rogue nation.” So it’ll be interesting to see how this current crisis plays out in terms of international response and internal consequences (if any) within Iran.

The one certainty: Iran is facing a huge crisis now with Great Britain. The Telegraph:

[British Prime Minister] Tony Blair warned Iran last night that it has only a few days to find a diplomatic solution to the escalating crisis over the 15 missing British sailors and Marines.

As the tension grew, the first direct high-level talks took place between Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, and Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, to press Britain’s concerns.

The moves came as the Foreign Office admitted it had no idea what has happened to the 15 Navy personnel seized by the Iranian military on Friday. The Prime Minister, in his first public comments since the incident, appeared to signal a hardening of attitudes after more than 48 hours of low-level diplomacy….

“We have certainly sent the message back to them very clearly indeed. They should not be under any doubt at all about how seriously we regard this act, which is unjustified and wrong.”

So what was really behind Iran’s seizure of the sailors? Pajamas Media offers this interesting report:

American forces in Iraq now hold some 300 prisoners tied to Iran’s intelligence agencies, Pajamas Media learned from both diplomatic and military sources.

This is believed, by both sources, to be a record number of prisoners tied to Iran. Virtually all were captured in the past two months.

This week’s seizure of 15 British sailors by Iran in the contested waters of the Shattab al-Arab, the ship channel that divides Iraq and Iran, may have been payback for the capture of record number of Iranian operatives inside Iraq. “It may be a bargaining chip,� one diplomatic source said.

The intelligence community is still debating whether the unlawful detainment of British sailors was ordered by Iran’s government or was presented to it as a fait accompli by relatively low-level Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers.

The roughly 300 prisoners held in Iraq—the number grows frequently—are either Iranian nationals or Shiites recruited from neighboring countries that are employed one of its almost two dozen intelligence or paramilitary services.

The record haul of Iran-linked prisoners may not be a sign of Iran’s increasing involvement in Iraq. The Islamic Republic’s participation in the Iraq war, which includes funding, arming and training both Shiite and Sunni militias, has been known to be significant for some time.

More likely, the large number of Iran-linked prisoners reflects a change in tactics following the arrival of Multinational Force Iraq commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus. Previously, Iranians and other foreigners could not be picked up without a provable connection to terrorism. Now, American and allied forces are encouraged to seize militants based on a reasonable suspicion of involvement in insurgent attacks. This is consistent with Iraqi law.

So the question becomes:

Is Great Britain in effect an unwilling proxy for the U.S. in the case of this latest Iranian crisis? Several news reports have echoed Pajamas Media on this point (although not in quite as much detail). Relations between the United States and Iran are at their lowest, most bellicose state. But relations between the United States and Iran have been like a roller coaster for years.

JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief
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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • A scary thought, it seems to me that Ahmadinejad is as hair-triggerdly (neologism alert) confrontational as George Bush.

    I have no clue where this is all going, but I thank my lucky stars that the sailors aprehended weren’t Americans.

    Then again, with our increased presence in the Gulf, perhaps it’s just a matter of time.

  • Brad Arnold

    Did it ever occur to people that the British sailors were in Iranian waters? Frankly, I am sick of hearing analysts making the mistake of claiming Iran was in big trouble if they didn’t hand over the British sailors. Britain and America are pursuing a belligerent policy toward Iran, and the US is planning to preventatively attack Iran regardless of the disposition of those 15 sailors. In my opinion, the best Iranian strategy is to follow the North Korean model (rather than the Iraq model), and act belligerent back, escalate at every turn, and act like they’re spoiling for a fight. To do anything else would be to show weakness. That is why North Korea has succeeded, and Iraq failed. Furthermore, that is why, when Bush orders a preventative attack on Iran, Iran will escalate. Like I say: the North Korean model has been successful, and the Iraq model failed.

  • usasamurai

    The US is planning to attack Iran?

    Where does your info come from?

  • Here’s a link to an interesting interview with Sir Alan West, who was First Sea Lord in 2004 when Iran detained eight British servicemen after they allegedly strayed over the maritime border.

  • Interestingly, West said of a similar incident in 2004 that he thought the British response was “not as robust as it might have been”.

    Unfortunately, the same seems to be happening again – yes, Tony Blair has used some strong words, but “Downing Street sources” put it about this morning that military action was not an option, thus rather hobbling our negotiating position!

    My fear is that a weak policy response will reinforce Iranian confidence and possibly cause tension between US / UK strategy.

  • No, Brad it didn’t. Do you have some major proof of the integrity and rationality of the current Iranian government that we’re not aware of? I’ve often wondered about those who assume that Iran is a rational government like any other secular government. Somehow I’m not surprised by them doing something like this.

  • Rudi

    Seems two stories about Iran from the recent past have implications of US incompetence and inteference all over. The raid in Irbil and the Ali Reza Asgari defection were US attempts to go after Iranian intel operatives.

  • Do you have some major proof of the integrity and rationality of the current Iranian government that we’re not aware of?

    I’m sorry to say it, but the U.S. and British governments have even less credibility than the Iranian government.

  • DLS

    Iran will only be emboldened, as well as rewarded, by weakness in the West.

    Iran and losers in the West would hate it if this guy were told about what Iran did, and reacted predictably and appropriately.

  • DLS

    Elliott Joseph said:

    > My fear is that a weak policy response
    > will reinforce Iranian confidence and
    > possibly cause tension between US
    > [and] UK strategy.

    Weakness is the last thing we need to show Iran right now.

    In a dramatic illustration of the different postures adopted by British and US forces working together in Iraq, Lt-Cdr Erik Horner – who has been working alongside the task force to which the 15 captured Britons belonged – said he was “surprised” the British marines and sailors had not been more aggressive.

    “…Our reaction was, ‘Why didn’t your guys defend themselves?'”

  • Bud Fox

    I’m taking away the argument that the British Sailors were in Iranian waters and thus their capture is acceptable. Even IF they were “over the line”, they were on a UN mission. So I ask, where is the outrage from the U.N.? Do the sailors have bibles? Religiously adherent meals? Time to pray to their Christian God?
    Come on folks, not everything is relative. The Iranians ARE bad people. Yes I said bad people for it is all of them that welcomed an Islamic state vice a secular state in 1979.

  • wow

    WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!! Did your skin not crawl when Ahmadinejad pronounced that he would introduce the world to the 12th Emam who he stated was born 300 years ago and has been in hiding?! What kind of man makes a world-wide proclamation like that? And why has no one said a damn thing about it??? Are the American people too stupid to realize that the extremists of Islam want nothing more than the demise of the west, Israel, and anyone who supports either of those two bodies? They say if we give them this and that, there will be peace, but all they do is ask for more. There will be no peace. I’ll say it again…THERE WILL BE NO PEACE. Have we already forgotten what the extremists did to us on 9/11? Have we already forgotten the lives lost? Do you not understand that they don’t believe in “talks” or “democracy”… all they know is the their “god” has commanded them in the ninth chapter of the Koran to wipe out anyone who opposes or does not take part in the Islamic faith a.k.a “the infidels.” And what do they call us? Thats right!…Infidels. This is not a war between men…this is a holy war. They call it Jihad. Have you heard of it? If not…just turn on your T.V. because the beginnings of it are happening right now…and all we can do is sit back and watch. I have no party affiliations, but I believe that when the liberals are in control of the country (which will happen…Bush f**ked up…) all they will want to do is have talks and meetings. These people will lie to our faces about peace, and about working together. Don’t be fooled. As soon as we give them any room, they will strike. Be prepared.