Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Melanie Phillips: The Appeasement of Iran
Three of the British Royal Marines who were kidnapped by Iran in 2004.
Daily Mail, 28 March 2007
Admiral Lord Nelson must be revolving in his grave. While on patrol in the Shatt-al-Arab waterway between Iran and Iraq, 15 Royal Marines and sailors were seized by Iran on a trumped up charge that they had entered Iranian waters.
Six days on and there is no sign of their release. On the contrary, Iran has stepped up its aggression, threatening to charge the kidnapped marines with espionage and even denying them British consular access.
We have been here before. Three years ago, six Royal Marines and two sailors were abducted from the same waterway and held for three days before being released.
And this time, the crisis is potentially far more serious. There is every prospect that these hostages will be used as bargaining counters to force the release of five Iranian Revolutionary Guards who were captured in Iraq by American troops earlier this year.
Yet in its response to these events, Britain seems to be in some kind of dreamworld. There is no sense of urgency or crisis, no outpouring of anger. There seems to be virtually no grasp of what is at stake.
Some commentators have languidly observed that in another age this would have been regarded as an act of war. What on earth are they talking about? It is an act of war. There can hardly be a more blatant act of aggression than the kidnapping of another country’s military personnel.
What clearly does belong to another age is this country’s ability to understand the proper way to respond to an act of war. When his Marines were seized by the Iranians, the commander of HMS Cornwall, Commodore Nick Lambert, did nothing to stop them and later said it was probably all a misunderstanding. If Nelson had been such a diplomat in such circumstances, Trafalgar would surely have been lost.
Our Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the Government had been ‘disturbed’ by the incident. The Prime Minister took three days to say that the seizure was ‘unjustified and wrong’ and mouthed platitudes about the welfare of the detainees. Yesterday he talked severely of ‘moving to a new phase’.
My goodness, the Iranian regime must be shivering in its shoes. With what contempt they must regard us — a country that stands impotently by while its people are kidnapped and then does no more than bleat that it is ‘disturbed’.
What on earth has happened to this country of ours, for so many centuries a byword for defending itself against attack, not least against piracy or acts of war on the high seas?
Twenty-five years ago, we re-took the Falklands after the Argentines invaded. Faced with an act of war against our dependency, Mrs Thatcher had no hesitation. Aggression had to be fought and our people defended. It was the right thing to do.
Can anyone imagine Mrs T wringing her hands in this way over Iran’s seizure of our Marines?
True, we are now living in very different times. Personally, I supported the Iraq war, and still do. But the undoubted mistakes and disasters made by the coalition since the fall of Saddam have caused this country to throw up its hands over the whole issue of aggression by the Arab and Muslim world.
As a result, many in Britain are failing to see the big picture. Iraq is merely one theatre in a global war which threatens us and in which Iran is a major player.
Indeed, Iran’s involvement in Iraq is a major factor behind the bloody terrorism there and the fact that the West has been so reluctant to deal with Iran in Iraq has been one of the major mistakes that has been made.
When the five Iranian Revolutionary Guards were captured in January, along with the defection of two highly-placed Iranian agents, the astounding scale of Iran’s involvement in Iraq could no longer be denied.
But the West has failed to deal properly with Iranian aggression for the past three decades, a sign of weakness which has encouraged Iran to ratchet up its attacks.
In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini declared war on the West. We took no notice. In the years that followed, Iran repeatedly attacked western interests. The response was always muted for fear of something worse.
Iran became a major sponsor of world terrorism. It is behind Hezbollah and Hamas and is a principal source of war and instability in the Middle East. Its current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes that if he brings about an apocalypse he will hasten the return to earth of the Shia messiah, the Twelfth Imam.
Now Iran is racing to develop nuclear weapons with which it threatens to wipe Israel off the map and with which it would hold us to ransom. Just imagine the position we would be in if our Marines had been kidnapped by a nuclear Iran.
The kidnapping of the Marines may well be a diversionary tactic. The UN has just decided on a feeble set of sanctions against Iran over the nuclear issue. But now attention has shifted to the fate of the kidnapped Marines.
We just don’t seem able to grasp the true nature and scale of the Iranian threat. Indeed, there is a distinct air of irrationality about a Britain which tells opinion pollsters that it believes President Bush is a greater threat to world peace than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What terrible moral confusion.
We have consistently shown we are not prepared to defend ourselves. In 2004, the British servicemen who were kidnapped by Iran were spirited to Tehran and paraded blindfold on television, which broadcast their apprehensive apologies for a ‘big mistake’.
It was an act of war against us. We let them get away with it.
In 2005, the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Iran was supplying the roadside bombs that were blowing up our troops in Iraq. Such a supply was an act of war against this country. We let them get away with it.
Our failure to respond adequately to Iranian aggression this time round will provide yet another signal, not just to Iran but to every corrupt despotism which fancies its chances against Western interests, that we are there for the taking.
So what should we be doing? The correct response is to show that if they hit us we will hit back harder. That does not mean rushing to bomb Tehran. But there is a great deal else that we could do to show Iran that we are serious.
First, we should set a clear deadline for the release of our Marines.
Second, we should change our military rules of engagement. The reason Commodore Lambert did nothing to stop the Marines being taken was because the current rules of engagement forbid action which might escalate a crisis.
That must change. We should state publicly that our rules of engagement are now being altered to allow us to defend ourselves.
Third, we should announce that we are seeking a UN resolution condemning the kidnap of our Marines and enabling us to use ‘all necessary means’ to get them back. And we should back this up with some significant moves by a couple of frigates.
In short, we need to rattle some sabres through a far more muscular and indeed coercive diplomacy.
Iran believes we will not act. They are banking with some confidence on appeasement by the West. And history tells us what horror awaits those who believe you can appease tyranny.