Daily Telegraph – Analysis: It’s a typical Iranian tactic. The moment Teheran finds itself in a tight corner it pulls off a stunt designed to divert the world’s attention away from the issue that is causing it difficulty. The Daily Telegraph
By Con Coughlin
It’s a typical Iranian tactic. The moment Teheran finds itself in a tight corner it pulls off a stunt designed to divert the world’s attention away from the issue that is causing it difficulty.
So it is no coincidence that the 15 Royal Navy personnel now being held by Iran were abducted at the very moment that Teheran was under intense pressure from the United Nations Security Council to halt its uranium enrichment programme.
The Iranians’ natural instinct will be that they can use the British sailors as a bargaining chip to influence the deliberations of the countries responsible for deciding whether Iran should be subjected to further sanctions for persisting with its nuclear programme.
In the delicate negotiating process that is now taking place between the Foreign Office and Teheran the Iranians will let it be known that the prospects for the sailors’ early release will be immeasurably improved if only the British Government could find a way to give them a little more slack on the nuclear front. From the Iranian point of view such a request is perfectly reasonable. As the Iranians never tire of reminding us, their nuclear intentions are entirely benign, and are aimed exclusively at developing an indigenous nuclear power industry.
The fact that they have deliberately concealed the existence of several of the programme’s key facilities, such as the vast uranium enrichment complex at Natanz, was, the Iranians insist, the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding.
The problem for the Iranians is that no one believes them, not even the studiously neutral scientists at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna whose task it is to monitor the development of Iran’s nuclear programme.
The glaring inconsistencies that the inspectors have uncovered in Iran’s nuclear declarations in their regular visits to Iran have convinced the Western intelligence community that Iran has a clandestine nuclear weapons programme, and even Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA’s director-general who has gone out of his way to be accommodating to the Iranians, believes there are grounds to suspect the Iranians are up to no good.
Iran’s decision to commence uranium enrichment at Natanz last year was the reason sanctions were imposed in the first place: Iran’s insistence on continuing with that process in the face of widespread international condemnation – particularly from Britain and America – is the reason the security council is now considering whether to strengthen the sanctions regime.
Using hostages for political leverage is a tactic the Iranians have not been afraid to use in the past. The dozens of Westerners – including British hostages Terry Waite and John McCarthy – taken hostage in Lebanon in the 1980s were abducted on Teheran’s orders as part of a campaign to force the West to stop interfering in Lebanon’s civil war.
The hostages were eventually released as part of deal struck between Washington and Teheran after the first Gulf war, in which the Iranians agreed to release the hostages if the US-led coalition eased Iran’s diplomatic isolation.
Now the Iranians are turning their attention to southern Iraq where they hope the same sort of tactics will be successful in persuading the UN Security Council member states that it is not in their interests to get tough with Teheran.
Coalition commanders in Iraq have recorded a marked increase in Iranian activity, particularly in southern Iraq, in the year since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad set his country on a collision course with the West over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Iran has made no secret of its attempts to exert its influence over Iraq’s Shia Muslims following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in 2003, but until recently this was confined to supporting and training radical Shia groups, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army.
But in the past year Iranian meddling in southern Iraq has taken a more sinister turn, with both the British and American governments accusing Teheran of directing violent attacks against coalition forces and providing a range of sophisticated military equipment that is being used to deadly effect.
Only this week British commanders in the southern Iraqi city of Basra accused Iran of organising most of the violence against British forces and providing “sophisticated weaponry” to the insurgents, including roadside bombs.
They also said Iranian agents were paying local Shia fighters to attack the British.
More than a dozen Iranian agents – many of them officers in the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds force – have been detained by coalition forces in Iraq since last December, and the Iranians have now retaliated by organising yesterday’s abduction of 15 British sailors – by a Revolutionary Guards naval patrol.
Iran’s tactics are crude, but highly effective in getting their message across to those countries, such as Britain and America, that are taking a tough line on Iran’s persistent nuclear violations, which, put simply, is: “Mess with us at your peril.”