Thursday, March 29, 2007

More on the Iranians and the Sailors

By all accounts they're doing well enough, although it's unlikely that they're going anywhere soon. They were going to release one sailor, the sole woman, but it's been bogged down over the question of whether the Brits were in Iranian waters. Considering that's the entire legal question here, I doubt either side is going to easily back down on it.

The UK is complaining about the broadcasting of the prisoners on Iranian television. They're citing the same prohibitions on "exposing prisoners to national curiosity" that the Americans used against the Iraqis a while back. Two problems with that: Iran is not in a state of war with the UK, and the Coalition of the Willing has a very nasty habit of doing the same damned thing.

(Remember Saddam getting his teeth checked on TV? Because I do. Not a leg to stand on.)

As for exactly where all this happened, in Iraqi waters or Iranian, things are getting trickier. The Brits have used GPS devices to show that they were on the Iraqi side of a "notional line" extending from the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. The Iranians disagree, but their stated coordinates appear to be shifting around somewhat, raising questions about their credibility. The problem is that according to Craig Murray, that "notional line" may not be legitimate after all- that the Iranians and Iraqis had never set down exactly WHERE the line was, and wherever it is, it's probably not there:

The British Government has published a map showing the coordinates of the incident, well within an Iran/Iraq maritime border. The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.

But there are two colossal problems.

A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.

B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.

None of which changes the fact that the Iranians, having made their point, should have handed back the captives immediately. I pray they do so before this thing spirals out of control. But by producing a fake map of the Iran/Iraq boundary, notably unfavourable to Iran, we can only harden the Iranian position.
Can't disagree with this one bit.

Murray, by the way, has several other excellent posts on this.

Now, as for what's REALLY going on... I'm with Murray when he says that both sides are "acting like idiots". The Iranians should have released the soldiers by now; persisting in holding them only ratchets up the tension. Yes, the UK may spin it as a victory if they're released, but outside of Washington and a small bit of London, who'd buy it?

The UK, in turn, shouldn't be trying to spin the border, should have known in the first place that doing incredibly provocative activities in disputed waters is dodgy at best, and should make it clear that this isn't part of a hunt for a bombing campaign's casus belli, as that will make Iran dig in their heels further.

As to where this goes... I still think the UK is floundering somewhat. If Murray's points don't get out into the wider media, they might buy the UK's line. Since he was already mentioned on the BBC site, though, I think that cat's well out of the bag. I don't think going to the UN will help much; I'm sure they'll have backing from the US, but Russian and China are going to be a much harder sell, considering Iranian oil and China's paranoia about national sovereignty. They might get a resolution, but it'll be watered down.

More as it develops.

(Fixed some issues.)

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