The timing of the recent incident in which 15 British sailors were arrested by Iran at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway for purportedly entering Iranian waters couldn’t have been more provocative if it had been planned that way. And perhaps it was. The question is, however, who did the planning?
It happened on the eve of a vote in the UN Security Council to impose stricter sanctions on Iran and in the wake of escalating rhetoric from U.S. government officials blaming Iran for anti-occupation activity in Iraq. On top of that, recent events include the kidnapping of Iranian consular officials in Irbil, Kurdistan, by U.S. forces, reports of covert U.S. support for terrorist attacks inside Iran, the "disappearance" of a major Iranian military figure in the elite Revolutionary Guards unit, and suspicions that the Mossad may have had a hand in killing a renowned Iranian nuclear scientist. Add it all up, and there seems little doubt as to who carried out what seems like a brazen provocation.
Go here for the semiofficial British version of the confrontation: according to this account, we are supposed to believe that the Iranians entered Iraqi waters to "ambush" the Brits, who were engaged in what is described as a "routine" patrol of the disputed waterway in search of suspected smugglers. Car smugglers were offloading their merchandise onto a barge when they were approached by the Brit patrol and fled into Iranian waters but not before "irking" the British crew:
"The suspected smugglers complied with the British orders and the crew returned to its rigid hull inflatable boats (rhibs) to continue its patrol, only to turn around and see the traders laughing in its direction."
Laughing at Her Majesty’s sailors, who were guarding the civilized world from the pernicious plots of car smugglers, was surely an act of war. After all, isn’t a car a "weapon of mass destruction" in present-day Iraq? The Brits weren’t going to let the Iranians off the hook quite so easily, and the next day they returned to the same waters to find the same smugglers plying their trade. The British patrol made a beeline for the smugglers, but this time the smugglers didn’t run and the poor naïve Brits walked right into the trap. No sooner had they boarded the vessel than they were surrounded on all sides by Iranian gunboats. Last anybody heard of their fate, they were in Tehran and the Iranians were talking about putting them on trial for espionage.
The Iraqi commander in charge of guarding Iraq’s territorial waters, Brig. Gen. Hakim Jassim, has a different story to tell, as reported here:
"The Iraqi military commander of the country’s territorial waters cast doubt on claims the Britons were in Iraqi waters. ‘We were informed by Iraqi fishermen after they had returned from sea that there were British gunboats in an area that is out of Iraqi control. We don’t know why they were there.’"
Ah, but I suppose it depends on which fisherman you ask. At any rate, no fisherman in the area will be interviewed by anyone in the Western news media any time soon, because, as the UK Independent notes, all reporters have been "ordered away" by coalition forces. The Brits are hedging their bets: even while Tony Blair denies Iranian charges of "blatant aggression" and openly threatens Tehran,
"Lord Triesman, a Foreign Office undersecretary who had held talks with Iran’s ambassador on Saturday, told Sky News there was good evidence the men were in Iraqi waters, but that the issue of whether the sailors had strayed into Iranian waters was only a technical one. ‘I’ve been very clear throughout that the British forces do not ever intentionally enter into Iranian waters,’ he said. ‘There’s no reason for them to do so, we don’t intend to do so, and I think people should accept there’s good faith in those assertions.’"
Although the Iranians claim the captured recording devices provide solid evidence that the Brits knew they were in Iranian waters, Iranian officials have so far declined to release the precise coordinates where the interception took place. One awaits further evidence, as opposed to the straight reporting of the British government’s explanation as if it were fact. In any event, you’ll note that various descriptions of the Shatt al-Arab waterway are often preceded by the word "disputed" due to the fact that nobody really knows what defines the exact boundary between Iran and Iraq along this crucial oil route. Which is precisely why this area is such a perfect staging ground for the War Party’s next adventure in "regime change."
Both Ron Paul and Antiwar.com columnist Philip Giraldi have warned about the likelihood of a Gulf of Tonkin-style incident in the Persian Gulf, and their predictions have, sadly, proved all too accurate. That it involves the British, not the Americans, is a double victory for the on-to-Tehran crowd: the war-weary Brits, who recently announced the withdrawal of their troops from southern Iraq, will presumably be dragged along in the wake of the coming U.S. military assault as their sailors are paraded before the cameras in Tehran. Once again, "coalition" forces are about to take down a Middle Eastern government, and they are already on the move.
The War Party’s propaganda campaign has gone into high gear as a result of this incident, evoking memories of yet another "hostage crisis" and characterizing the incident as an Iranian provocation designed to set up a prisoner exchange, in which the Iranians would hand over their captive Brits for Iranians recently detained in Iraq the latter supposedly numbering in the "hundreds."
As part of the general propaganda offensive, U.S. News is reporting yet another incident, this time involving the Americans and Iraqi troops, who were allegedly surrounded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards well inside Iraq. This supposedly occurred in September of last year yet we’re only learning about it now.
On the ground in the Middle East, the forces that will engage in a mighty clash of civilizations are gathering while, on the home front, the Israel Lobby is preparing the ground by softening up any possible opposition. This means zeroing in on the Democratic Party, lining up the major presidential candidates in support of a strike against Tehran, and smearing any and all war opponents as anti-Semitic enablers of the nuclear-armed, Holocaust-denying Iranian regime.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recently-passed "antiwar" legislation funding the conflict while giving the president plenty of room to evade a conditional withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by sometime in 2008 is being hailed as a great achievement by the Huffington Post’s David Sirota and other party-lining apologists for the DNC, but what these people somehow fail to mention is the stripping out of a provision that would have forced Bush to go to Congress before launching an attack on Iran.
No one should be surprised by this open invitation to the president to commence the bombing at his convenience. After all, Democrats have been more belligerent than the Bush administration when it comes to Iran. Hillary Clinton has accused the Bushies of mollycoddling Tehran, and Democratic Party national chairman Howard Dean opined to Chris Matthews that the tragedy of our wrongheaded intervention in Iraq was that it diverted attention away from the "real threat" Iran. Asked by Matthews if we ought to go to war with Iran, Dean like the big-time Democratic presidential wannabes refused to take it off the table.
The Democrats, to their dismay, may soon find that it is being put on the table by George W. Bush and how they react will determine whether they go down in history as opponents of this war-crazed administration, or its craven enablers. I’d be willing to bet the farm on the latter, and, in this context, rumors of a U.S. attack on Iran scheduled for April seem more credible by the hour.
I would note, in passing, and purely as a speculative matter that oil prices are already spiking in response to rumors of war in the Gulf, and perhaps this is the key to understanding the Democrats’ capitulation. After all, the political atmosphere would certainly change to the Democrats’ advantage if the price of oil were to truly skyrocket, say, to $200 a barrel. This would virtually ensure a Democratic victory in ’08. That another side effect would be to trigger a worldwide economic collapse is just a minor matter, and perhaps as good an opportunity as any to institute some real New Deal-style "reforms" of the American economic system. Statist liberals have been complaining ever since 9/11 that George W. Bush has never really asked us to make "sacrifices" in pursuit of victory in the "war on terrorism," bemoaning the lack of a tax hike and disdaining the president’s call for the nation to "go shopping" in response to the biggest terrorist attack in our history. Having caused a major economic as well as geopolitical catastrophe as a result of making war on Iran, our pro-sacrifice liberals especially those in Congress who initially signed on to the attack on Iraq may believe an attack on Iran is a small price to pay for power.
We keep hearing that the U.S. will never attack Iran because we don’t have the troops or the military reserves. Lawrence O’Donnell, for one, keeps saying this on The McLaughlin Group, but I don’t believe it for a minute. The Lobby is pushing hard on this one, and, politically, the War Party has lined up the leadership of both the Democrats and the Republicans, as Pelosi’s capitulation on the Iran proviso makes all too clear. As long as domestic political support for an attack spans both parties and includes the key element of "liberal" Democrats like Pelosi and Chairman Dean, all systems are "go" for war with Iran.
God may forgive them: I will not.