Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Saturday, April 07, 2007
Brits to Yanks: butt out!
The Guardian breaks the story this morning that the Bush administration offered to help free the 15 British military captives from Iran via military intervention, but the offer received a rather chilly response from the Brits, who apparently have cooled on the notion of joint military adventures with their American cousins, in favor of diplomacy with their Asiatic neighbors.

The US offered to take military action on behalf of the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran, including buzzing Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions with warplanes, the Guardian has learned.

In the first few days after the captives were seized and British diplomats were getting no news from Tehran on their whereabouts, Pentagon officials asked their British counterparts: what do you want us to do? They offered a series of military options, a list which remains top secret given the mounting risk of war between the US and Iran. But one of the options was for US combat aircraft to mount aggressive patrols over Iranian Revolutionary Guard bases in Iran, to underline the seriousness of the situation.

The British declined the offer and said the US could calm the situation by staying out of it. London also asked the US to tone down military exercises that were already under way in the Gulf. Three days before the capture of the 15 Britons , a second carrier group arrived having been ordered there by president George Bush in January. The aim was to add to pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme and alleged operations inside Iraq against coalition forces.
At the request of the British, the two US carrier groups, totalling 40 ships plus aircraft, modified their exercises to make them less confrontational.

The British government also asked the US administration from Mr Bush down to be cautious in its use of rhetoric, which was relatively restrained throughout.

The incident was a reminder of how inflammatory the situation in the Gulf is. According to some US and British officers, there is already a proxy war under way between their forces and elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. ...

This comes as Tehran accuses the U.S. and Britain of using proxy guerilla fighters from the "Stans" -- including Pakistan -- to encroach upon Iranian positions.

This quote from the story sums it up nicely (although "nice" might not be the appropriate word...)

A senior Iranian source with close ties to the Revolutionary Guard, told the Guardian: "If this had been between Iranian and American soldiers it could have been the beginning of an accidental war."
If you consider such things "accidental"...

More interesting nuggets from the Guardian piece include the fact that the decision to grab the sailors was apprently made locally, by the Iranian commander in charge of that Gulf region, after three alleged previous incursions over the Iraq/Iran line in the Shat al-Arab waterway, long disputed between the two countries. The Guardian writes that the situation took so long to disentangle because of the hydra headed nature of the Iranian government, whose various pieces were scattered around the country due to a major holiday (their version of New Year's). More from the article:
"Nobody who counted was answering the phone," said one senior British official. "By the time the Iranian leaders got back from the holiday [on Tuesday] the phone was ringing off the hook, including from people they didn't expect, calling on them to release the captives quickly."

Among those unexpected callers were their closest allies, the Syrians, as well as leaders from far-flung states with no direct stake in the Gulf. Even the Colombian government issued a protest.

Another surprise intervention came from the Vatican. Hours before Wednesday's release, a letter from Pope Benedict was handed to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It said the Pope was confident that men of goodwill could find a solution. He asked the supreme leader to do what he could to ensure that the British sailors and marines were reunited with their families in time for Easter. It would, he said, be a significant religious gesture of goodwill from the Iranian people.

What impact the Pope's message had is impossible to assess. But some of its language was reflected at the press conference at which the release of the 15 Britons was announced. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the decision to "forgive" the sailors and marines had been taken "on the occasion of the birthday of the great prophet [Muhammad] ... and for the occasion of the passing of Christ".

The Iraqi government also played a critical role, pushing for consular access to five Iranians who had been arrested by US forces in Irbil and had been in custody since January, and helping organise the mysterious release of an Iranian diplomat who had been in captivity since February.

In the first days of the crisis, Iraqi officials also helped the British to identify the exact boundaries of Iraqi waters, the Guardian has learned, suggesting the British were not as certain of their case as they had publicly claimed. ...
Read the entire article here.

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