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What On Earth Is Iran Doing?

It's by now clear that the captured British sailors had been patrolling Iraqi waters, which they had every right to do under a UN mandate. This makes Iran's foolhardy act seem a provocation to go to war, although I doubt … Read More

By / March 27, 2007

It's by now clear that the captured British sailors had been patrolling Iraqi waters, which they had every right to do under a UN mandate. This makes Iran's foolhardy act seem a provocation to go to war, although I doubt very much that's what the Tehran regime has up its sleeve. Rather, with the passage of stronger sanctions against the Islamic Republic last week, I think this latest hostage crisis is more of a manic-depressive cry for attention: Tehran wants to talk to the U.S. and Britain, and they know they'll now have the opportunity to do so since the lives of fourteen servicemen, and one servicewoman, are at stake. Here is the New York Times:

Iranian state television quoted a government official on Monday as saying that the captives were being interrogated by Iranian officials. But the official, Deputy Foreign Minister Mehzi Mostafavi, denied that the captives were being used as pawns in a diplomatic tussle between Iran and United States forces in Iraq, where five Iranians are being held on suspicion of providing weapons and money to extremist groups.

People have read "interrogated" to mean "tortured," but I highly doubt this has happened. If any bodily harm comes to the hostages, then war is likely. The mullahs can't afford that right now, if ever, and so I think they're playing their hand as far as it will go, testing Western responses to acts of aggression like these. Of course, this game is stupid and self-defeating because it engenders international sympathy for the coalition's tougher countermeasures against Iranian infiltration into Iraq, or at least, gives more front-page justification for such countermeasures.

We have every right to arrest Iranian spies operating in Kurdistan, just as the Chinese had a strong case for detaining the personnel of that downed U.S. spy plane in 2000. Remember that affair? It was the worst crisis of the infant Bush administration before 9/11.

Bolstered by Hezbollah's summer war with Israel, Iran thinks it can poach military personnel of states too embroiled in a degenerate conflict in Iraq to do much else besides "talk." Well, that and destroy all of Iran's oil refineries from the air, thus devastating its economy. Iran also jeopardizes its gas industry, which is almost wholly reliant on imports from Russia. (Even Vladimir Putin isn't megalomaniacal enough to counter a global consensus that Tehran has gone too far. Russia signed off on the sanctions last week.)

What will happen? I suspect the hostages will be released without our having to move an inch toward minimizing our pushback against Iranian influence in Iraq. As a positive consequence, the mullahs and Ahmadinejad will have lost face before their own restive public.

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