Early on the morning of 11 January, helicopter-born US forces launched a surprise raid on a long-established Iranian liaison office in the city of Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. They captured five relatively junior Iranian officials whom the US accuses of being intelligence agents and still holds.Okay, so the article doesn't "prove" that the seizure of the sailors was done in direct retaliation for the Irbil raid, but it sure is hard not to imagine that Iranians wanting to make a point in some way considering the importance of the personnel that were seized in January. Unfortunately, the British sailors are serving as a proxy in our little conflict with Iran. And so far, there appears to be no end in sight for the standoff over the captured personnel.
In reality the US attack had a far more ambitious objective, The Independent has learned. The aim of the raid, launched without informing the Kurdish authorities, was to seize two men at the very heart of the Iranian security establishment.
In a little-noticed remark, Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister, told IRNA: "The objective of the Americans was to arrest Iranian security officials who had gone to Iraq to develop co-operation in the area of bilateral security."
The raid in Arbil was a far more serious and aggressive act. It was not carried out by proxies but by US forces directly. The abortive Arbil raid provoked a dangerous escalation in the confrontation between the US and Iran which ultimately led to the capture of the 15 British sailors and Marines - apparently considered a more vulnerable coalition target than their American comrades.
Unfortunately, this result should hardly be a surprise, as it's a direct result of deliberate provocations that Max Hastings says the Iranians welcome:
Plenty of people in Washington would say that violent provocation of this kind shows that diplomatic engagement with Iran, as favored by Britain and other European nations, is wasted motion; that only harsh sanctions backed up by the threat of force can influence the wild men of Tehran, headed by the Holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.And we play right into their hands.
Yet it is hard to punish masochists. The problem for policymakers is that Iran’s leadership positively welcomes Western threats.
What should be regarded as an unanswerable case of armed aggression by a rogue state is instead being viewed by many nations as the sort of embarrassment the British should expect, given the dubious legitimacy of their presence on the Shatt al Arab.
The Iranians know all this, of course, and it fortifies their intransigence. The game they play with considerable skill is to project themselves at once as assertive Islamic crusaders, and also as victims of imperialism. They crave respect and influence. Their only claims to these things rest upon their capacity for menacing the West, whether through international terrorism, support for Palestinian extremists, or the promise of building atomic weapons.