Both Sides Must Stop This Mad Confrontation, Now 21

There is no agreed maritime boundary between Iraq and Iran in the Persian Gulf. Until the current mad propaganda exercise of the last week, nobody would have found that in the least a controversial statement.

Let me quote, for example, from that well known far left source Stars and Stripes magazine, October 24 2006.

‘Bumping into the Iranians can’t be helped in the northern Persian Gulf, where the lines between Iraqi and Iranian territorial water are blurred, officials said.

“No maritime border has been agreed upon by the two countries,” Lockwood said.’

That is Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Lockwood. He is the Commander of the Combined Task Force in the Northern Persian Gulf.

I might even know something about it myself, having been Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1989 to 1992, and having been personally responsible in the Embargo Surveillance Centre for getting individual real time clearance for the Royal Navy to board specific vessels in these waters.

As I feared, Blair adopted the stupid and confrontational approach of publishing maps ignoring the boundary dispute, thus claiming a very blurred situation is crystal clear and the Iranians totally in the wrong. This has in turn notched the Iranians up another twist in their own spiral of intransigence and stupidity.

Both the British and the Iranian governments are milking this for maximum propaganda value and playing to their respective galleries. Neither has any real care at all for either the British captives or the thousands who could die in Iran and Basra if this gets out of hand.

Tony Blair’s contempt for Middle Eastern lives has already been adequately demonstrated in Iraq and Lebanon. His lack of genuine concern for British servicemen demonstrated by his steadfast refusal to meet even one parent of a dead British serviceman or woman, killed in the wars he created. He is confronting an Iranian leadership with an equal lust for glory and lack of human concern.

It is essential now for both sides to back down. No solution is possible if either side continues to insist that the other is completely in the wrong and they are completely in the right. And the first step towards finding a peaceful way out, is to acknowledge the self-evident truth that maritime boundaries are disputed and problematic in this area.

Both sides can therefore accept that the other acted in good faith with regard to their view of where the boundary was. They can also accept that boats move about and all the coordinates given by either party were also in good faith. The captives should be immediately released and, to international acclamation, Iran and Iraq, which now are good neighbours, should appoint a joint panel of judges to arbitrate a maritime boundary and settle this boundary dispute.

That is the way out. For the British to insist on their little red border line, or the Iranians on their GPS coordinates, plainly indicates a greater desire to score propaganda points in the run up to a war in which a lot of people will die, than to resolve the dispute and free the captives. The international community needs to put heavy pressure on both Britain and Iran to stop this mad confrontation.

The British people must break out of the jingoism created by their laudable concern for their servicemen and woman, and realise that this is just a small part of the madness of our policy of continual war in the Middle East. That is what we have to stop.

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21 thoughts on “Both Sides Must Stop This Mad Confrontation, Now

  • PhilPalmer

    Living outside the UK, it seems to me that Blair's noise machine is designed to conceal from the UK public the fact that the rest of the world doesn't really feel outraged about the capture of the sailors. Nervous about the oil price, yes. Outraged about the prospect (only a prospect, so far) that hostage-taking might become a part of diplomacy, not so much. Of course, this won't do. The idea that the British are attracting the kind of opprobrium heaped on the Americans would cause alarm in the UK, especially after everyone has been led to believe that the British forces did such a fine job in Basra.

    The Iranian view is harder to parse. I suspect that different factions are at work, in which case one party is testing the effect on the others of a fait accompli. But externally there are implications too, because if the international response to the taking of a dozen or so prisoners can be finessed then there may be significant advantages in taking 150,000 – such as may obviate the 20,000 or so cost in casualties of taking them, and the lost opportunity cost of no longer having one's enemy's forces pinned down next door. (This shift in costs is, in my opinion, the real danger to the "coalition" in a decision to withdraw. Pinned really means pinned.)

    Thus, the Gulf situation really has the capacity to be much more dangerous than we currently think, and the government's contribution is one of misdirection and lies. Sorry, I should stick to posting things we don't already know!

  • Strategist

    Both sides must stop this mad confrontation, now…but has this "crisis" really got anywhere to go? The British media may be going bonkers, but what can the British actually do anyway?

    Either the US has decided it will dare to bomb Iran or it has decided it won't. If the former, then it may want to use this incident as part of its ostensible casus belli (attack on UN forces enforcing UN mandate, ha-ha), but if an attack has been decided then it will attack anyway whatever the Iranians do with the British captives. So we could threaten "give us our people back or the US will bomb you", but the Iranians would know that if the US is going to bomb it will bomb anyway.

    If the US has decided it's not going to attack Iran this year (let's all pray this is the case) then what exactly do we threaten Iran with to get our people back? We're not getting support at the UN, our own forces in the Gulf are puny and would be trounced if we dared to attack Iran. It seems to me that we can huff and puff but actually have no cards to play to escalate. What are we going to do, attack them with six inch headlines from copies of The Sun?

    So, it seems to me likely that unless the British don't back down publicly (or make some kind of concession/ effectively pay ransom secretly) the captives will just sit there for weeks and months and probably be treated reasonably well. The media will move on to the next thing and they will (hopefully) get released eventually.

    What would you advise, Craig, if you were still on the FCO payroll?

  • Craig

    Fair question, but this post is the advice I'd give if I was still on the payroll. Climb down, semi-apologise, admit the boundary is disputed, politely request our sailors back.


  • barrylando

    Craig, a very sensible post on your part..the only question i have: it seems that the revolutionary guards who carried out the capture may also want to deal with the u.s. to get the release of their five officers, currently imprisoned in iraq. How would you factor that it? or would you just ignore it?

    Best Barry

  • Craig


    The Iranians have given another letter to the British, and so far neither side have revealed its contents. That is a good sign that some serious discussions are now happening.

    I don't think there is much point in conjecturing about the different demands that might be being pressed by the different Iranian players. I think the only hope to resolve this current problem is to delink it from any other issue – ie just concentrate on where they were and what they were doing, and be prepared to climb down over that, characterising it as a border muddle.

  • Chuck Unsworth

    Good post, and points very well made. This is not going to be resolved without a British 'climb down' – regrettably. However, it's also difficult to establish who on the Iranian side is the ultimate authority. We may currently be dealing with those who have no real powers or who are mere intermediaries.

    Of course the question will be how this sort of thing is to be avoided in the future. And there's a further question as to exactly how this happened in the first place. I suspect the Navy will have to scrutinise and reconsider its methods and tactics, if it has not done so already. It would appear that the boarding party was left (at least partly) unprotected. If this is standard procedure we can certainly expect to see a repeat incident.

  • Randal

    "It is essential now for both sides to back down. No solution is possible if either side continues to insist that the other is completely in the wrong and they are completely in the right."

    Any reason to suppose either side actually wants the situation to be resolved?

    In reality, as you well know, governments are rarely unified in their objectives. In Iran, there are factions that want cooperation and factions that want confrontation. It appears, partly as a result of the Blair government's deliberately confrontational approach, that the latter group is dominant on the issue at the moment.

    We find it easy to make such judgements when it comes to foreign countries, but seem to be blind to them when it comes to our own (I do not mean you, Craig, obviously – I mean the general public, who are inadequately informed by the mainstream media.) The fact is, Blair represents the confrontational faction in Britain. He has been desperate to support the people in and around the US regime that are ideologically committed to war with Iran, but he has been too damaged by his association with the Iraq catastrophe to allow him to get away with it. This confrontation helps to generate the popular jingoistic hostility to Iran in Britain that allows him more flexibility in confronting Iran and helping the US, and also gives him some leverage to pull the Europeans further down the path of confrontation.

    Given Blair's evident lack of any concern for individual lives, including those of British servicemen, what is there for Blair not to like about continuing and even escalating this confrontation?

  • eenymeeny

    Great post, but I think Randal's comment is sound.

    Neither Blair, Bush nor Iran's current leadership has anything to lose at a personal level by escalating this as far as they think make personal sense.

    For neither Bush, Blair nor Ahmadinejad are likely to be re-elected in their respective countries.

    The UN should "resolve" this, simply by refusing to pander to either side's interests in this specific case. This may well be the case, since they exerted a lot of effort over the nuclear issue, and will possibly not want to overload that collective judgement with an irrational, off-the-cuff judgement on this minor incident.

    The UN Security Council statement this morning seems to give grounds for hope in this case, since it merely voices concern, and calls for access plus early resolution of the problem. "Nothing to see here, move on please", so to speak.

  • kazbel

    I've added a hasty link from my private blog (which friends and others read). Hope that's OK. It seemed important to publicise this view, given the way the media are responding.

  • Richard II

    It's a bit like saying if only we could all be nice to each other, the world would be a lovely place. We saw what happened to the last guy who suggested doing exactly that: he was nailed to the cross!

    This is why I can't stand politics – it's all a lot of hot air and hypocrisy, 95% of the time.

    Blair will milk the marines' captivity for as much propaganda material as he can get out of it.

    According to this article, America is entrenched in interfering in Iran's internal affairs:

    "Subverting Iran – Washington's Covert War inside Iran":

    Two articles the author referenced in writing his piece:

    "US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran":

    "US marines probe tensions among Iran's minorities":

    If this is the case, Iran knows something most of us don't, which means it's recalcitrance is a little more justified than we think.

    Despite the Iranian regime being odious, these renegade terrorist groups the U.S. is supporting don't seem to be any better. In other words, if the U.S. does manage to topple the Iranian regime from within, its successor could be worse.

    Finally, Seymour Hersh writes in an article entitled "The Next Act":

    "'Iran is emerging as a dominant power in the Middle East,' I was told by a Middle East expert and former senior Administration official. 'With a nuclear program, and an ability to interfere throughout the region, it's basically calling the shots. Why should they cooperate with us over Iraq?'"

    Does America cooperate when it's calling the shots? Does Britain?

    To expect Iran to treat us any differently to how we treat nations in weak bargaining positions is naive in the extreme.

    If Iran is fair with us, will we be fair back? It wasn't long ago that Blair was claiming that Iran was preparing to carry out terrorist attacks on British and American interests. What Blair didn't say was that Iran said it would only do this if we attacked first.

    Bush wants the Iranian regime overthrown, and Iran knows it, that's not a small part of the problem.

  • Randal

    Regarding my comment above about the confrontation suiting Blair's purposes in generating jingoism, I cite the following classic piece of jingoistic warmongering rubbish in today's Telegraph:

    Online comment: Heading for war with Iran?

    The piece is riddled with the usual lies and black propaganda that fills our mainstream media concerning Iran, but for an excellent antidote to Heffer's laughable "hurt innocence" pose in his first couple of paragraphs, try this piece by Ronan Bennett in the Guardian:

    A peculiar outrage,,2046321,0…

    The Iranians should have kept the moral high ground by releasing these people promptly. In particular, they were foolish to go back, in response to Blair's escalatory rhetoric, on their apparent promise to release the lady. Couldn't they see that they were giving him exactly what he was trying to provoke? What is incredibly frustrating is the stupidity of the Iranian leadership in giving Blair and Bush free propaganda victories like this. A bit like Palestinian terrorism, "it's worse than a crime – it's a blunder".

  • Harker

    Regardless of the boundary dispute it is hardly civilised to start kidnapping people and then holding them hostage.

    I think this is where the Iranians have got it wrong. Hostage taking seems an every day affair in the middle east. Not so common in the west as a means of highlighting disputes.

    Similarly it is an Iranian trait to then put the hostages on show and fake 'confessions.'

    Again, this doesn't seem particularly civilised behaviour. And certainly not behaviour that one should be condoned.

    Perhaps next time western military will simply fire first and ask questions later. It might make the Iranians think twice about silly propaganda exercises.

  • Randal


    The Iranians' holding of these people is both a tactical error and wrong, of course. On both counts, it pales into insignificance next to the wrongs and the murderous blunders committed by our own regime in the region.

    "I think this is where the Iranians have got it wrong. Hostage taking seems an every day affair in the middle east. Not so common in the west as a means of highlighting disputes."

    In terms of seizing representatives of a foreign power without justification and simply detaining them, the Americans have done that to Iran recently:….

    Iraq defends Iranians seized by the U.S.

    I suspect the Iranians in question aren't being treated anything like as well as the Brits are…

    "Similarly it is an Iranian trait to then put the hostages on show and fake 'confessions.'"

    See the Ronan Bennett piece in the Guardian, linked in my post above. At least the Brits aren't being paraded in orange jumpsuits, "renditioned" to third world countries for torture, beaten to death or striped naked and subjected to sado-masochistic perversions, as happens to prisoners of the so much more civilised west of which you speak.

  • greengorilla

    Craig, good to see you on BBC News 24 this afternoon. What a relief to hear the voice of sanity! I believe there IS somewhere both the UK and Iran can go to resolve this issue: the 1899 Hague Convention.

    "TO UK & IRAN:

    Invoke 1899 Hague Convention for Pacific Settlement of International Disputes!

    Both Iran and the United Kingdom are contracting parties to the 1899 Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes.Title III of the 1899 Convention created a procedure for the formation of international commissions of inquiry to investigate, ascertain and report on international differences involving neither honor nor vital interests, and arising from disputed points of fact that could not be settled by means of diplomacy (article 9). An International Commission of Inquiry is precisely what is called for here to resolve their dispute over the Sailors. Hence I would encourage everyone to pressure the Governments of both Iran and the United Kingdom to publicly invoke the 1899 Convention and request the immediate organization of such a Commission to de-escalate this crisis that could readily precipitate World War III. For more details on these Commissions with further references, see my book Foundations of World Order (Duke University Press:1999).

    Professor Francis A. Boyle"

    As an expert in maritime law you'll know about this. What are your comments?

  • Richard II

    Harker writes:

    "Regardless of the boundary dispute it is hardly civilised to start kidnapping people and then holding them hostage."

    Where have you been the past six years? The U.S. regularly kidnaps people and holds them hostage – it even kills them! At least Iran is only holding military personnel hostage – the U.S. goes after civilians!

    Harker further writes:

    "Perhaps next time western military will simply fire first and ask questions later. It might make the Iranians think twice about silly propaganda exercises."

    Perhaps Iran should kill the hostages to call Britain and America's bluff. Let's see just how serious these two countries are about an attack, shall we?

    You seem to think this is a game, Harker. You're not in touch with reality, are you? Must be all those PS3 shoot 'em ups you've been playing.

    Was last year's massacre of Lebanese civilians civilized? Even Jeremy Paxman struggled to defend that. And what about the wholesale destruction of Lebanon's civilian and economic infrastructure?

    Iran is holding a handful of British servicemen and women hostage – so? We killed over 1000 Lebanese civilians, including babies and children.

    It's Arabs who need to fire first, to protect themselves against the maniacal, unpredictable West.

  • greengorilla

    More on the 1899 Hague Convention:


    Adopted 29 July 1899

    His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia; His Majesty the Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia, etc. and Apostolic King of Hungary; His Majesty the King of the Belgians; His Majesty the Emperor of China; His Majesty the King of Denmark; His Majesty the King of Spain and in His Name Her Majesty the Queen Regent of the Kingdom; the President of the United States of America; the President of the United Mexican States; the President of the French Republic; Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India; His Majesty the King of the Hellenes; His Majesty the King of Italy; His Majesty the Emperor of Japan; His Royal Highness the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Duke of Nassau; His Highness the Prince of Montenegro; Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands; His Imperial Majesty the Shah of Persia; His Majesty the King of Portugal and of the Algarves, etc.; His Majesty the King of Roumania; His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias; His Majesty the King of Serbia; his Majesty the King of Siam; His Majesty the King of Sweden and Norway; the Swiss Federal Council; His Majesty the Emperor of the Ottomans and His Royal Highness the Prince of Bulgaria;

    Animated by a strong desire to work for the maintenance of general peace;

    Resolved to promote by their best efforts the friendly settlement of international disputes;

    Recognizing the solidarity uniting the members of the society of civilized nations;

    Desirous of extending the empire of law, and of strengthening the appreciation of international justice;

    Convinced that the permanent institution of a tribunal of arbitration, accessible to all, in the midst of the independent Powers, will contribute effectively to this result;

    Having regard to the advantages attending the general and regular organization of the procedure of arbitration;

    Sharing the opinion of the august initiator of the International Peace Conference that it is expedient to record in an international agreement the principles of equity and right on which are based the security of States and the welfare of peoples;

    Being desirous of concluding a Convention to this effect, have appointed as their plenipotentiaries, to wit:

    (Here follow the names of plenipotentiaries." …

  • writeon

    One of the major problems with "climbing down" is that it becomes increasingly difficult the higher one "climbs up". Which is why one should endevour to stop conflicts escalating so that they take on a life of their own.

    One of the problems with UK society is the disproportionate power and influence of the certain right-wing newspapers that are both nationalistic, militaristic and zenphobic. The Sun, for example, has more concentrated power to frame the debate than almost any other institution in the country. The Sun just loves war, especially if the "enemy" are people of another race or creed. I think if I were dictator I would ban any one man from owning more than a single national newspaper, or better still, perhaps no individual should be allowed to own any national newspaper?

  • ziz

    Just imagine the tabloid response if one of the unfortunate military was HRH Prince Harry… or the lady in question were

    Condileezza Rice (who has gone over all quiet of late)or, God Forbid! the lissome Madeleine Albright, to whom the deaths of a few hundred thousand dead Iraqi children "was a price worth paying".

    Chuck Unsworth identifies the point "It would appear that the boarding party was left (at least partly) unprotected." – the Case oif the Missing Lynx appears to have passed the well fed, well paid commentators by.

    Increasingly reminded of the Beyond the Fringe sketch…" we need a pointless gesture at this stage in the war" .."Pop over to Bremen, have a shufti..Don't come back"… which caused enormous offence at the time. …probably as much as Channel 4's "The Mark of Cain" will when aired this week.

    The redeeming point is, I am sure that there are people in the FO who do actually read and heed what you say Craig.It will however, like the advice of Ms Wilmshurst be ignored, over ruled by those who have no great liking for the Rectum of Dundee.

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