Skip to comments.Blair convenes Cobra team as crisis in Iran escalates
Posted on 03/25/2007 5:17:55 AM PDT by Dog
THE official notification, delivered in secure calls yesterday morning to senior Whitehall figures, was the latest dramatic behind-the-scenes move to get to grips with a crisis that is now engulfing the government.
After a day of shadow-boxing with a notoriously slippery regime, Tony Blair is set to up the ante: the plight of the Shatt al-Arab 15 is officially a crisis and he will need the Cobra team to handle it.
The clutch of VIPs will gather in an operations room several floors below Downing Street as early as this afternoon to plot an escape from a military spat that now threatens to become an international incident.
The decision came just 24 hours after the crew of HMS Cornwall had been caught in the confusion of direct confrontation with Iranian vessels in the searing heat of the Gulf.
As the crew members were surrounded in their two rubber dinghies, the Cornwall's commander, Commodore Nick Lambert, frantically radioed back to his own top brass for instructions.
The response to the inquiry, which had been immediately patched through to Ministry of Defence headquarters in Whitehall, was to hold fire.
The order to show restraint has been observed throughout the forces and the British government in the 48 hours since, but it is unclear how long both sides will be able to maintain control.
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett's first response to the gathering crisis on Friday was to keep to diplomatic conventions. After a hurried phone call to Blair, she immediately summoned Iran's ambassador, Rasoul Movahedian, to her office to explain their behaviour.
After a meeting described by officials as "brisk but polite", Beckett emerged to stress that she was "extremely disturbed" by events.
It was an understated description of the deep concern now gripping the government. Not only was Blair's administration alarmed at the risk to the 15 military personnel, which included at least one woman, but it was in no doubt over Tehran's ability to use their plight to make a wider point.
During a flurry of diplomatic activity in the hours after the snatch, the Iranians' rhetoric repeatedly elevated their action, and the alleged motives of the British, to a multinational affair. It was the eve of a second UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions over Iran's refusal to halt its programme to enrich uranium. The Shatt al-Arab 15 were, from the start, pawns in a perilous international game.
"It looks like too much of a coincidence," a senior Foreign Office insider confirmed.
The response was a no- nonsense demand for Iran to relent - and Britain freely used the international community to back up its case. Beckett dispatched the UK chargé d'affaires, Kate Smith, to confront the government in Tehran, armed with the insistence that the British sailors had been in Iraqi waters.
In the meantime, Blair made a personal call to European allies, including EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, to secure a public denunciation of the Iranians' actions.
"It was impressed on everyone how important it was to raise the diplomatic temperature, rather than keep a low profile and let them make a song and dance of the situation," one defence official said.
"There is nothing to be gained in provoking a confrontation, because that would be playing into their hands. But neither should we let them have it all their way. We tried that before and we're still trying to get our kit back."
The smaller-scale precedent, the taking of six British marines and two sailors on the same waterway in June 2004, was a painful lesson. The personnel were only returned after they had been paraded blindfold on Iranian television and admitted entering Iranian waters illegally. Three years on, the government is still pressing Iran for the return of its boats and kit, including valuable radar equipment.
The degree of concern felt across Whitehall was demonstrated yesterday, when Movahedian was called back to the Foreign Office, this time to see Beckett's minister, Lord Triesman. The British were clearly attempting to warn off Tehran before it could begin to use the servicemen and women as a significant propaganda tool.
It was, however, a race against time - and through it all, the diplomats and the politicians were acutely aware that Tehran has built a foreign policy on disregarding diplomatic niceties.
Top level COBRA is an acronym for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, where its meetings are held.
Tony Blair, senior ministers, police and security chiefs all take part. It is called after events such as 9/11, 7/7
and can evoke emergency powers such as suspending Parliament or restricting movement.
Maybe to avoid an escalation and war
They really stepped on it, did'nt they?
Guennie we are all wondering why.
You're a real drama queen, aren't you?
Get those emotions in check before you hurt yourself.
To the British press and government: "Both sides maintain control"???? The Iranians took control of your mates! They broke that restraint from the very beginning!!! Your skipper stood by and passed the buck (I'm sure under orders) upstaris when while he watched his own men be attacked! Your higher ups let it be so. Now you want to spend perhaps millions of pounds convening government resources to "confront" the Iranians?
I'm sorry, but the timne to confront them was when the whole thing started. HMS Cornwall could have, should have stopped it then!
"We and GB are both playing a game with Iran that we can't win because they are following the rules of the low road and we are taking the high road. Sometimes you just have to drop some bombs to make a point like Ronnie did with Libya."
We don't have a "Ronnie" around today to lead us........
No need for bombs. Bombs may leave civilian casualties for the MSM to whine about. Iran has a navy. Start sinking it.
Sure, sure. Let's establish a dialogue./s
The Cobra team? Aren't those the guys who wear the blue spandex and run around shouting 'COBRA!', all the while randomly shooting their guns? He should call the G.I. Joe team instead. They are much more effective.
But seriously - England is a member of NATO. Does that mean anything?
There isn't a snowsball chance of the UK or US launching a operation to rescue them, as they've probably been seperated and are being held in various unknown bases in the capital. Plus, there is no political will to issue a military ultimatum.
The Iranian's will maximise the potential from the propaganda then claim the moral victory by eventually releasing them.
What should the West do if Iran calls our bluff and executes these fine sailors as a show of force?
Throw a State funeral (If the bodies are even returned) and continue to smile and talk to Iran and "her allies".
Well, if that's all this is about, no big deal, eh?
Right now it's a game of diplomacy but if harm comes to the prisoners it will be telling what the response is.
I wonder how Mrs. Bill would handle this
thomas16 sounds like a Democrat = defeatist, afraid
Iran doesn't have what it takes to start a world war we would end them in a week just like all the rest.
A military confrontation with Iran is just about an absolute certainty. Wouldn't it be better to fight them now while we have the upper hand, rather than fight them a decade from now when they have nukes, and we no longer have a comparative advantage?