Shatt al Arab waterway
The dispute regarding the British sailors seized by Iran continues. On one hand, maybe no big deal? This happened a few years back pretty much the same way, and the sailors were returned a few days later. On the other hand, the timing of this incident makes it much more serious. Tensions are high in the region as Iran continues to defy the UN’s demand that Iran halt its Uranium enrichment process. Perhaps not coincidently, the US has amassed a large force in the Persian Gulf area. Fighting continues in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, sabre rattling and tension continue all around.
The exact area in the Shatt al Arab waterway where the seizure occurred hasn’t exactly been revealed for us to Google-Earth. Much of the waterway in question is in dispute, it lays between Iraq and Iran. There was a treaty concluded in 1975 but it was abrogated by Iraq five years later. The west apparently is conveniently ignoring that treaty abrogation, as all imperial powers have ignored inconvenient laws and treaties. So figuring just out who was provoking who may not be known in London or Tehran, the person on the street may never know. Not that it matters, suffice it to say this is a very serious situation. Bad things could happen in these dark waters.
There have been rumours for awhile of American and maybe even British special forces operating in Iran, so it’s no surprise the Iranians may be sensitive to possible intruders. And highly motivated to capture same, a propaganda coup for them if they can convince a lot of people that the British were indeed intruding. It goes without saying that sending military units into Iran would be foolhardy, but Bush and Blair haven’t balked yet at sticking their noses where they don’t belong. Basically none of the parties involved has a whole lot of credibility at this point.
People of course are invoking the Tonkin Gulf incident, the USA Embassy Hostage Crisis, World War two, or whatever historical analogy pops to mind. It’s certainly easy to see a lot of them. Almost every major event in the past three thousand years has contributed something to the current situation in the Middle East. Check out this wonderful graphic that summarizes it all:
Once that sinks in, it’s easy to see that one can always find a historical analogy to apply to the crisis du jour. The next version of the map will include the American conquest of Iraq and Afghanistan, what comes after that is anyone’s guess. (Though I wouldn’t put any money on the joyous Middle Eastern democratic Pax Americana we were promised emerging out of the smoke anytime soon.)
My guess is that after a bit of bluster, this crisis will end. The sailors were likely seized by overzealous Revolutionary Guards. Cooler heads will prevail in Iran and after a bit of face saving delay, they will be returned. I suppose some sort of hostage crisis is possible, or the lesser but more horrible possibility is that someone will jump the gun and start a shooting war. A USA attack on Iran is still a possibility, as is an Iranian attack on USA assets in the region. Neither is anything I want to wake up to and see on the news, no matter how great a blog topic it would make.
It’s also a minor possibility that this seizure is a distraction for some other ugliness. There are any number of nasty scenarios that Ian, Iraqi insurgents, Al Qaeda or even clever third parties such as Israel could be cooking up while the world’s eyes are focused on the Shatt al Arab.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and it s central to illustrating the post.)