Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spoiling for a Fight

The Ministry of Defense have said that the 15 British sailors and Royal Marines that were seized at gunpoint by Iranian warships were in Iraqi territorial waters.

The incident occurred just outside the much-disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway, dividing Iraq and Iran. This is a crucial route for the transport of oil and has high strategic importance. British personnel regularly patrol the Iraqi waters and, with UN permission, board merchant vessels to search them.

It is not the first time that British servicemen have been taken captive by Iranian forces in these troubled waters. In July 2004, eight servicemen - six Royal Marines and two Royal Navy sailors - were seized and detained after their patrol boats were said to have strayed into the Iranian side of the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

This latest seizure of British servicemen has coincided with fresh claims that Iran is arming and funding insurgents attacking British troops in Iraq. Although no 'smoking gun' has been found, the British claim that there is enough circumstantial evidence pointing to Irans involvement.

It also comes at a time of renewed tensions with Iran over Tehran’s enrichment of uranium, which Britain and other Western powers fear could be used to develop a nuclear weapon.

Iran has no need of enriched uranium because it has no nuclear power stations and is unlikely to have any in the near future. (The lone nuclear plant that Russia is building in southern Iran was supposed to come on-line next year. But the Russians have now effectively abandoned the project, pending the outcome of Tehran's duel with the United Nations.) Thus, it is not hard to assume that the uranium is being enriched for something other than generating electricity.

However President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims that:
  1. Iran's economic development depends on nuclear energy. Iran has the second largest natural gas and third largest oil reseves in the world.
  2. The United States seeks to form an OPEC-like cartel to control the supply of enriched uranium. Some 31 countries produce nuclear energy, but only 10 have uranium-enrichment facilities. Even if Iran develops such facilities, it would still depend on the outside world for raw uranium. Iran's own reserves are sufficient for the needs of a single nuclear plant for just seven years!

Further, just hours before the five permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council and Germany reached agreement on new sanctions against the Islamic Republic, the Khomeinist leadership came out with its strongest show of defiance yet when former Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati warned that under no circumstances would the Islamic Republic agree to suspend its uranium-enrichment program.

Khamenei has also shown clear support for Ahmadinejad's hard-line stance on this issue which dashes all hopes that the "supreme guide" might disown the firebrand and adopt a less confrontational posture at some point.

By now, it must be clear to everyone that the fear of seeing nuclear bombs in the hands of the Khomeinist regime is not just a U.S. invention. In the past two weeks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Premier Tony Blair and all three leading candidates in the French presidential campaign have made it clear that they would not allow the mullahs to get the bomb. Even Russia under Vladimir Putin and China under Hu Jintao, while trying to keep channels open, have refused to split the Security Council in order to please Ahmadinejad.

So just how acute is the problem with Iran? What is the likely outcome?

If rhetoric is to be believed, the collision is inevitable. Ahmadinejad has said that it would be “suicidal for a country to attack Iran,” adding that “we must not bend to threats.” The rhetoric from Washington has been equally tough, even as the diplomacy plays out in the United Nations.

That we’re moving toward a crisis isn’t just based on rhetoric. Actions have accompanied the tough language. The Iranians have developed long-range missiles and have a serious nuclear program, which the Israeli's are predicting will give Iran nuclear capability by 2008. The United States is gearing up its response capabilities. This has involved the deployment of additional naval strike forces and a higher-profile public-relations effort aimed at tying Iran to the difficulties inside Iraq.

Ultimately, this struggle will be played out as a test of wills of the competing sides: Iran’s determination to acquire nuclear weapons against Washington’s determination that they not get them.

With each passing month, as the Iranian program progresses, the U.S. comes closer to the military option.

1 comment:

KG said...

"With each passing month, as the Iranian program progresses, the U.S. comes closer to the military option."

Nope--the West will fold.Our "leaders" have already capitulated, they're just making the right noises for domestic consumption.