Daily Telegraph – Leaders: It is one thing to be disliked; quite another to be despised. Iran would not have kidnapped our Servicemen without having considered our rules of engagement, our diplomatic isolation and our likely military response, and made a rough calculation of how likely they were to get away with their piracy. The Daily Telegraph
It is one thing to be disliked; quite another to be despised. Iran would not have kidnapped our Servicemen without having considered our rules of engagement, our diplomatic isolation and our likely military response, and made a rough calculation of how likely they were to get away with their piracy.
There was a time when British citizenship afforded a degree of protection from foreign harassment. When the half-mad King of Abyssinia interned two of our diplomats in 1868, we sent an expeditionary force of 13,000 British and Indian troops on a nine-month rescue mission. When Gordon was besieged at Khartoum in 1884, public opinion demanded a relief expedition, whose failure to arrive in time contributed in no small part to the downfall of the government.
During the Don Pacifico Affair in 1850, when Britain blockaded Piraeus in order to secure compensation for a Portuguese moneylender who had been born in Gibraltar, Palmerston assured his countrymen that “a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him from injustice and wrong”.
Not any more. Teheran is well aware that we have been taking on additional military responsibilities while running down our capacity. Struggling to meet our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are in little position to pick a new fight. Public opinion, too, has changed. Where our great-great-grandfathers clamoured for the rescue of Gordon, we have reacted to Iran’s provocation with a resigned shrug. Americans, in particular, cannot understand why we seem so indifferent to the fate of our own people.
Part of this indifference has to do, disgracefully, with anti-war sentiment: there is a feeling that we have no business being in the Gulf, and that we therefore are in no position to complain when things go wrong. But our sailors were carrying out their task at the behest of the Iraqi government and the United Nations. The rights and wrongs of the original invasion have no bearing on the criminality of their abduction.
There is also, perhaps, a feeling of impotence: if we can’t invade Iran, what else can we do? Plenty of things. We can, of course, pull diplomatic and economic levers. This will involve going through Brussels, not so much because we need a favour as because we have no independent trade policy: the only way that Britain can impose sanctions on Iran is if the EU does so. At the same time, we could be seizing Iranian assets. Longer term, we could be putting pressure on the regime by sponsoring its opponents. We could launch tactical strikes at Iranian military installations.
We could even, in extremis, impose the kind of armed siege, complete with no-fly-zone, that paralysed Saddam in the years between the two Iraq wars: we already maintain large coalition garrisons on both Iran’s flanks. Limiting ourselves to trivial resolutions will be treated by the ayatollahs as a sign of weakness. If they hate us, let them also fear us.