OpinionIran in the World PressThe bottom line for Iran

The bottom line for Iran

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Sunday Times – Leading Article: There is growing evidence that the kidnapping of 15 British sailors nine days ago was a premeditated act of aggression by Iran. It is almost certainly no coincidence that the hijacking in Iraqi waters occurred the day before the United Nations security council voted to tighten sanctions on Iran over its nuclear weapons’ programme. The Sunday Times

Leading Article

There is growing evidence that the kidnapping of 15 British sailors nine days ago was a premeditated act of aggression by Iran. It is almost certainly no coincidence that the hijacking in Iraqi waters occurred the day before the United Nations security council voted to tighten sanctions on Iran over its nuclear weapons’ programme. It furthermore coincided with condemnations by American and British commanders of Iranian assistance to terrorists fighting the democratically elected Iraqi government. The Iranian logic is that if the West can behave illegally by invading Iraq, seeking to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions and fomenting unrest within its borders, then why should it, too, not behave illegally?

Yet it is a high risk strategy which may be part of a complex power struggle within the regime, or a bid to reassert its defiant Islamic credentials in the region. Even though the Iranians may be scoring points at the moment, there is a real threat to the country’s trade and status and unknown military dangers if it gets out of hand. Despite these risks, the Iranian leadership seems casually indifferent. Parading the hostages on television, talk of putting them on trial and goading the UK for its so-called belligerent approach when it has been anything but are calculated to cock a snook at Britain. It may be poker, yet it is the West that has blinked.

The British government has so far appeared all too reasonable and indecisive. There seems to have been no determined effort to get its allies to exert pressure on Tehran and no combative stand to ensure the UN security council makes Iran suffer diplomatically and economically. Although these 14 men and one woman were patrolling under the mandate of the UN, its most powerful executive body has shown scant regard for their wellbeing and sent out signals that amount to little more than appeasement. The European Union has been scarcely tougher. It has declined to stop Iran’s export credits and Javier Solana, its foreign policy chief, said he would “contact” the Iranians. Even America, our closest and staunchest ally, seems strangely silent. The hardliners in Tehran must be congratulating themselves over their cunning brinkman-ship and flagrant abuse of international law.

Britain needs to step up the pressure and show that it will not tolerate this behaviour. It must go back to the UN and use whatever diplomatic influence it has to get tougher action. Iran is vulnerable to trade embargoes and its economy is far from robust. We know its people are divided. If Germany and France will not end the valuable export credits for Iran, perhaps Britain and America can give them a helping nudge. Those companies that trade so profitably with Iran might suddenly find a chill breeze in their relations with London and Washington. The best way of bringing Iran to its senses is to hit it in its pocket. It may well be the bottom line that will decide the outcome of this confrontation.

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