24 maart 2007

HMS Cornwall Incident

Yesterday, 15 Royal Navy Sailors from the HMS Cornwall were 'taken into custody' or rather captured by Iranian naval forces. The 15 British sailors were performing a regular boarding & naval control task in IRAQI waters of an IRAQI vessel. The captives have now been transported to Teheran, according to the Iranians the British were in Iranian waters and some of them supposedly admitted to such accusation.

I saw the HMS Cornwall at Zeebrugge in July 2006 boarding it after passing a welcoming committee checking bags and stuff...pictures can be found here.
The BBC reports that one of the captives is female, if she's blonde...then I just might have her pictured on the panoramio account.

Several Iranian vessels took part in this 'operation'. What wonders me is that the RN boarding party did not decide to create a stand off and wait for back up for the HMS Cornwall. They should have seen the Iranians coming, according to some they were 6 miles out of the Cornwall, unless the Iranians used 3 previously 'captured' RN vessels during a 2004 incident.

Why did the Iranians do this? I can only guess... but if I were to guess I'd say:

They're playing a game of the weakest link.

What has Iran to fear? A British military action with a Tony Blair & Bush set to leave office and both being impopular for their Iraq actions? It sounds like an attempt to break UK-US relations but it could easily backfire.

The European Union is intervening so that translates into diplomacy first, so the UK is tied down there whilst the US would be more eager into a gunboat policy. Either way, you can't do a lot of military action because you will endanger them in a short timeframe. I'm confident Iran will eventually return the sailors as a 'good will' gesture and to make sure that it doesn't drag the rest of the European Union into a possible conflict, lets take a week or two as guidance.

Additionally Iran can hide behind the difficult border situation, were they in Iranian territorial waters or not...well yes, otherwise they wouldn't have ended up in Iran...but were they in Iranian territorial waters when intercepted? If not, then Iranians violated Iraqi territorial waters and deliberately captured UK forces which can only translated as an act of war against the UK and an act of agression against Iraq...which keeps piling up with weapon deliveries & support to insurgency in Iraq.

What was the Iraqi Merchant vessel doing? Was it steering into Iranian waters? What did the inspection reveal?

If Iran decides to keep the 15 Britons captured and wants to put them on trail for an agressive incursion into Iranian territorial waters, then a military option certainly becomes a more important option. Its a choice between endangering UK troops (whose lives are already counted if they're to be stuck in Iranian jails) or forcing Iran's hand.

Obviously all will point to the nuclear stand-off and related stress, the Iranian president not receiving a visa to visit the US...but thats got nothing to do directly with the UK. The same for Iranian officers arrested in Iraq.

For me this reminds me of the Falklands. Argentinians betting that the UK will not try to retake the Falklands. I would bet that the UK won't try to use military force as a reaction in this case as well. Perhaps the Iranians thought the same and now found evidence with the lack of response from the HMS Cornwall or other assets (you're not telling me there's no available air power to make a statement).

Hopefully it will also enlighten our politicians that the European forces have insufficient power projection capacity and that a centralised EU policy is not the way. This requires more of a NATO-style framework rather than the tailfirst diplomatic policy of the EU. This doesn't mean there should be no European cooperation, it means that there should be a European Defense Community integrated into NATO, whilst widening NATO with Australia & Japan, with a double NATO-EU system of interoperability. It also means it's time to get one's head out of the sand and aknowledge that we need to return to more investments and larger standing armed forces instead of downsizing and cutting budget.


At 25/3/07 19:31, Anonymous Anoniem said...

American forces in Iraq now hold some 300 prisoners tied to Iran’s intelligence agencies

At 26/3/07 15:12, Blogger David Vandenberghe said...

Yup, and
Iraqi fisherman says British were in Iraqi waters .

What's even more weird is that the HMS Cornwall wasn't close by to offer support nor seems there to have been a call for support.


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