Since the seizure of the British sailors and marines took place in Iraqi waters, making it an act of aggression against our allies in our territory, we’ve been following the crisis trying to predict out how this standoff’s going to unfold.
Understanding the motives and goals of Iranian government is useful in predicting the way the crisis will end.
Some pundits are comparing the situation with the US embassy crisis in Tehran back in 1979. I don’t find this comparison valid. The abduction of the sailors has more in common with the Bazoft case in Iraq in 1990.
Taking over the American embassy happened during the days of the Islamic revolution that toppled the Shah. The Shah was considered the American-backed puppet by the revolutionaries, and the American embassy was seen as the place from which the imperialist west pulled the strings of the Shah; the tyrant who oppressed the Islamists.
The 1979 embassy attack was meant to send a message to the west from the leaders of the revolution: ‘You Americans can’t control us anymore. We are independent of your manipulation and your presence is not welcome. We will run this country and spread our Islamic revolution as we please’
The regime in Iran has been defiant to the demands of the international community for years now. Nejad and the Mullahs have chosen to set Iran on collision course with the world. What they need today is to convince public opinion in Iran that the west wouldn’t dare attack the Islamic republic. At the same time they need to make the acts of the regime look like acts of defense in response to foreign trespassing—just like Saddam in 1990.
Saddam knew that a confrontation was imminent, but he wanted to tell the people here that he was strong enough and had enough deterrence to make the west think a thousand times before firing a single bullet at him.
The possibility of war creates fear and dismay which might turn into anger and unrest. That’s the last thing tyrants want to happen in their countries.
So in 1990 Saddam found what he was looking for. A showcase he could use to tell the people inside Iraq they were safe under his firm control. He “captured” Farzad Bazoft, declared him a western “Spy”, put him to “trial”, and hung him. At the time he could point to the “facts” and say that all the west could do was object and condemn. So far the parallels with the captured British sailors have held, and threats of a trial and “punishment” are par for the course. Of course at the end there was war for Saddam, but he managed to keep most Iraqis living in illusion until the war actually started.
I’m inclined to believe that the Mullahs are pursuing a similar maneuver here. The Iranian regime wants to tell the Iranian people that ‘See, we arrested their sailors and there’s nothing they can do about it. The west is too scared to attack Iran and that’s why all they can do is to negotiate the problem.’
Still, while the goals are similar, the endings might differ and I hope they do differ.
I hope the sailors will be released unharmed eventually because the mullahs know that executing them would only accelerate the onset of war. Right now what they want more than anything is to buy as much time as possible so that they can continue their policy with as little opposition from inside Iran as possible.