Sunday Telegraph: Hardliners in the Iranian regime have warned that the seizure of British naval personnel demonstrates that they can make trouble for the West whenever they want to and do so with impunity.
The Sunday Telegraph
By Gethin Chamberlain, Philip Sherwell and Tim Shipman, Sunday Telegraph
Hardliners in the Iranian regime have warned that the seizure of British naval personnel demonstrates that they can make trouble for the West whenever they want to and do so with impunity.
The bullish reaction from Teheran will reinforce the fears of western diplomats and military officials that more kidnap attempts may be planned.
The British handling of the crisis has been regarded with some concern in Washington, and a Pentagon defence official told The Sunday Telegraph: “The fear now is that this could be the first of many. If the Brits don’t change their rules of engagement, the Iranians could take more hostages almost at will.
“Iran has come out of this looking reasonable. If I were the Iranians, I would keep playing the same game. They have very successfully muddied the waters and bought themselves some more time. And in parts of the Middle East they will be seen as the good guys. They could do it time and again if they wanted to.”
Americans also expressed dismay that the British had suspended boarding operations in the Gulf while its tactics are reassessed.
“Iran has got what it wants. They have secured free passage for smuggling weapons into Iraq without a fight,” one US defence department official said.
It is also clear that the Iranian government believes that the outcome has strengthened its position over such contentious issues as its nuclear programme. Hardliners within the regime have been lining up to crow about Britain’s humiliation, and indicated that the operation was planned.
Conservative parliamentarian Amir Hassankhani, a former member of the country’s Revolutionary Guard and supporter of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told the country’s semi-official Fars news agency: “The arrest and release of the British sailors proved that if Iran’s issues and demands are overlooked at the international level, the Islamic republic can create different challenges for the other side.”
However, a British Government official familiar with the negotiations said that while the abductions had provided Ahmadinejad with a platform from which to humiliate the West, such behaviour would have undermined Iran’s ambitions for its nuclear programme. Countries which might otherwise have supported Iran would now be questioning whether a regime that took hostages could be trusted with sensitive nuclear technology.
“Ahmadinejad may have got some short-term PR bounce out of this, but the more cerebral members of the regime may be quite alarmed that they have squandered their perceived right to be treated as a country that should be trusted with a nuclear enrichment programme,” he said. “In the long term, they may have lost out.”