Paris – Tehran, 25 March (IPS) As tension escalated in Tehran and London relations, Iranian analysts and journalists said the seizure of 15 British navy men and marines and their two boats on Friday 23 March by Iranian revolutionary guards was a “gift of God” to the embattled Government of the fanatic President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad.
Iranian patrol boats arrested late Friday night two British navy vessels inspecting an incoming ship at the entrance of the Arvand Roud (Shat ol Arab for the Iraqis) and arrested all fifteen sailors and marines, including one woman soldier, claiming they were operating in Iranian territorial waters.
The Government of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad was looking for anything that would help it to divert an angry public opinion to another “big issue” .
The incident happened on the eve of a new meeting of the United Nations Security Council to decide on a new resolution concerning the Iranian controversial nuclear activities and 12 days after the Russians badly humiliated the Iranians over the nuclear powered electricity plant they are building in the city-port of Boushehr, on the Persian Gulf.
As the Iranian Government was preparing nation-wide celebrations for the arrival of the first containers of nuclear fuel for the 1000 megawatts plant on 12 March 2007, the Russian constructor, Atomstroiexport (ASE) suddenly informed the Iranians that because of huge delays in financial payments by Tehran to the order of 75 millions US dollars, it could not deliver the good on time and as a consequence, the station could not go on stream by September, as scheduled.
And as bewildered Iranians were swearing that not only they had paid to the last kopeck and even more and they did not know to which god turn, Moscow, with a blunt and unprecedented statement, made them realize that unless tey bow to the demands by the Security Council and the International Atomic energy Agency’s demands for suspending their nuclear activities, the Boushehr project would not be finished.
“The blow was so strong, the slap was so unexpected, the humiliation so intense that for several days, the (Iranian) authorities did not know what to do, how to react, whom to believe, and ordered the press not to mention it”, a journalist told Iran Press Service, adding: nevertheless, it was a disaster for the Iranian clerical-led establishment and the criticism of the Government so intense that it ended by calling the shots, accusing the Russians to be “untrustworthy”.
It was among such embarrassment at home that the Government of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad was looking for anything that would help it to divert an angry public opinion to another “big issue” that the British entered the scene, probably unwillingly, even though that some Iranian analysts says that it was aimed at “checking with Iranian military preparations”.
While London was assuring” that they were operating in Iraqi/international waters and summoned Iranian ambassador in London for explications”, urging him the “immediate and unconditional” release of their soldiers, Tehran in turn accused the England of "blatant aggression" and reminded that “this is not the first time that Britain commits such illegal acts, resulting in the arrest of some of their (military) men”.
Britain and the United States have said the sailors had just completed a search of a civilian vessel in the Iraqi part of the Shatt al Arab waterway when they were intercepted by the Iranian navy and detained.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Sunday 25 March that the 15 British sailors and Royal Marines captured by Iran were not in Iranian waters and warned that Britain viewed their fate as a "fundamental" issue.
"It is simply not true that they went into Iranian territorial waters", Blair said in Berlin, adding "I want to get it resolved in as easy and diplomatic a way as possible". He described the situation as "very serious" and said he hoped the Iranians "understood how fundamental an issue this is for the British government".
But Brigadier General Alireza Afshari, the Deputy Commander of Iranian Armed Forces for Cultural and Propaganda Department said on the same day that the group admitted to sailing into Iranian waters and that satellite tracking on the British boats backs it up, both claims which the British military denies.
At the same time, Iran's Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned the British ambassador to protest what it called the "illegal entry" of British sailors into Iranian waters and according the Foreign Office, British requests for access to the 15 Britons had been denied and recongnised that the issue of “whether the sailors had strayed into Iranian waters was a technical point”.
The Britons were seized in an area where the boundaries of Iraqi and Iranian waters have long been disputed. A 1975 treaty signed in Algiers between the late Shah of Iran and the now hanged Iraq Dictator Saddam Hussein agreed on the Thalweg principle setting the center of the river as the border. But Saddam Hussein thorn that agreement when he invaded Iran, triggering an eight-year war. Iran and the new Iraqi government have not signed a new treaty on their sovereignty over the waterway.
The U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, unanimously voted to impose new sanctions against Iran for its refusal to stop enriching uranium — a move intended to show Tehran that defiance over its nuclear program will leave it increasingly isolated.
With Iranian newspapers closed for the long Iranian New Year holiday that started on 21 on March, several conservative and pro government internet sites as well as government-controlled basiji (volunteers) groups urged the Iranian authorities not to release the sailors until Iranians detained by U.S. and British forces in Iraq are freed and the U.N.'s new sanctions against Iran are canceled.
Some 500 Iranian students gathered on the shore near where the soldiers were captured, shouting "Death to Britain" and "Death to America," the semiofficial Fars news agency reported.
With tensions already running high, the United States has bolstered its naval forces in the Persian Gulf in a show of strength directed at Iran. There is concern that with so much military hardware in the Gulf, a small incident could escalate dangerously.
In Bahrain, Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet said: "We are monitoring the situation very closely".
Most Iranian analysts expect Iranian authorities repeat the same scenario they played in 2004 after they seized in almost similar situation a British navy boat and arrested eight crewmen, showing them on television hands on their heads, walking in southern desert to their interrogation camps etc..
The State-run, leader-controlled Television last year aired a so-called documentary on that incident, entitled “The Collapse of the Pillar”, produced by a Iranian who had been detained for some months in Britain on terrorist charges. ENDS IRAN BRITAIN 25307