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.
She would make a feckless speech, calling on the "international community" (which doesn't exist) to do something.
If you're talking Mrs. Bill Clinton, then probably the same way Jimmy Carter "handled" the first Iranian hostage crisis.
With that attitude I suppose this will be resolved by begging for help from London's radical mullahs instead of telling Tehran to release them immediately or suffer the consequences. They need Maggie Thatcher.
Regardless of whether you view it as a 'big deal' or not, the outcome is probably going to be the same, i.e. a rerun of 2004 - humiliation followed by release. It was a preplanned operation by the RG to retaliate against moves against the RG's operations in Iraq & to boost internal support for the regime. They picked UK forces because they knew the would not fight back and their position is to always de-escalate in this type of situation.
Next turn of events...Iran will cut off supplies of oil to the US by gumming up the Straights of Hormuz (sp) and will sell there product over land to China, India etc. So the US if were to EVER bomb the oil supplies in Iran, it will be perceived as a strike on the world, not just Iran.
Officially touch and go...this capture has 15 lives in limbo...they certainly have been gaining good knowledge about our technology they keep kidnapping with the boats...and some day and maybe soon...don't be surprised when a British boat approaches a US vessel and we then find out that suicide rag heads made a surprise visit to our troops and they actually use our bombed vessel to clog the water ways.
The next war or terror will be on the water ways...if the terrorists can sink enough ships, in major waterways, they will have a bigger desvasting impact on the world then a war fought on land...they can control the flow of oil.
Now if they were US forces, things would be a lot different. But that's why they picked UK marines. They're playing it safe. Easy target, satisfactory propaganda and humiliation. No fear of retaliation.
Make a trade with what?? What if the U.S. holds all the Iranian prisoners? You think we would just roll over like that? We hold all the bargaining chips, we might give them back and allow the trade, but I'd bet Bush gets some assurances from Blair as to UK cooperation with any future conflict with Iran
Another more recent datapoint to consider: the taking of 3 Israeli soldiers and killing of others, on clearly Israeli soil, last Summer... that led to a few weeks of a mini war. Although not carried thru to their release, it was the correct response to the Iranian (via Hezbolla/Hamas) provocation.
"There is alway's hope"....EST
It's just a matter of time
The Iranian strategy seems to be to try to drive a wedge between the US and Britain by conditioning the release of British soldiers on the US releasing the Iranians. I don't believe they really have any interest in their spies. This is all about divide and conquer.
I think the Iranians do not understand Western reaction to the taking of our soldiers. That is the flaw in their strategy and I think it will cost them. When Western soldiers are taken hostage, Western leaders are essentially given a blank check by the public when it comes to military force. That means the Iranians just voided their greatest asset - Western peace advocates in the media and on the left.
Blair convened them to explain why they won't be used. This will be yet another victory for those who dare, and yet another demoralizing loss for the West, who won't bother to defend itself, lest it appear like a "bully".
Another brick in the wall.
I hope the Ahmadinadjab just hit the fan.
If they wanted to launch a military conflict they would do so in such a way as to maximise their inital advantage as long as possible. Cutting off oil offers no advantage whatsoever and only sets themselves up for instant retaliation.
"This went nowhere. The Iranians calculated that the British would not do anything other than talk, and they are correct."
Iran is trying to justify their ownership over this territory. They also know the British soldiers will confess which will make their case stronger in the UN.
This was a good play by Iran. They raised the stakes and have nothing to lose by this. Get the confessions, release the sailors and the British will back off.
Notice how the MSM is not really reporting this? They don't want Americans to gain sympathy for England which will make Americas case for doing something about this.
I think this has gone far enough.
It's time to stop letting these terrorists humiliate our country.
What a complete bunch of pussies we look like. Being bullied by islamo facists. I'm actually pretty ashamed and embarrassed.
If were up to me, I'd give them one very public warning to return our service folks and the equiptment that have illegally stole, or we are going in to get them ourselves.
I am very worried that Blair is going to cock this up tp appease the population.
It's a shambles.
It used to... if Britain invokes Article 5, then we are obligated to aid in her defense... which means that GWB does not have to go to Congress for a declaration of war before orderinf troops to Iran. Sadly, Blair won't have the stones for it.
I agree, but...when was the last time that we went in and used our force to wage war? Grenada? American guilt will always win the day.