Daily Telegraph – Leaders: The last time Iranian forces kidnapped British naval personnel from Iraqi territorial waters, in 2004, the hostages were released after three days. The Daily Telegraph
The last time Iranian forces kidnapped British naval personnel from Iraqi territorial waters, in 2004, the hostages were released after three days.
So it must remain our earnest hope that the current outrage in the Gulf will also turn out to be no more than another act of bellicose posturing by Teheran, and that HMS Cornwall will shortly welcome its crew members back on board, all safe and well.
More doubtful is how the behaviour of our Government, especially that of a Prime Minister who can no longer command respect at home or abroad, and his perennially invisible Foreign Secretary, will have materially helped that happy outcome.
Yesterday Tony Blair used the platform of the EU summit to tell us what we already knew, namely that the Iranian action was “unjustified and wrong”, and stressed how seriously Britain is taking the situation, adding: “It is the welfare of the people that have been taken by the Iranian government that is most important.”
This was fine as far it went, but it was not enough.
To offer sympathy with the loved ones of the prisoners is appropriate, and expresses the sentiments of us all.
But Mr Blair is supposed to be our leader, not our mouthpiece, and neither homely platitudes nor dark hints cut any ice with the likes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guards.
There may be neither political will nor public support for an invasion of Iran, but we do have the power to hurt that country grievously without committing our forces to another long haul, and the threat must be made explicit: release these prisoners, or else.
We must not delude ourselves about the cause of this crisis.
When his people were abducted, the commander of the Cornwall was quick to say that it was probably all just a misunderstanding; but our naval officers are trained to be adroit diplomats, ever alert for ways of preventing an incident from becoming a shooting match.
The Iranians have yet to respond to that pacific gambit, preferring instead to exploit the fears of innocent families, and with them the civilians of an entire nation, just like the terrorists they are.
And, true to the profile, they do this in support of an agenda that seems perverse to the civilised mind.
If Iran desires a lifting of sanctions, rather than their intensification, it would be prudent for it to stop lying to us about the details of its nuclear programme, to stop arming and directing insurgents in southern Iraq, and to stop violating Iraqi territorial waters.
Instead, it chooses to deepen our hostility, believing, against all the evidence, that threats rather than conciliation will weaken Western resolve, and even that it will be rewarded in some way for releasing the prisoners unharmed.
It is Mr Blair’s job now to trumpet unequivocally the folly of such a belief.
We wait anxiously to see whether this weakened and discredited Prime Minister has the necessary spine to do what is required, or whether Britain will persist in presenting its weakest aspect to a potential enemy.