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UK Tests Iranian Resolve


By Ardeshir Ommani

Iranian armed forces arrested 15 British marines and sailors, including a 26-year-old Leading Seaman, Faye Turney, on March 23 after they illegally entered Iran's territorial waters in the northern Persian Gulf, as was reported by Mehr News Agency.

If today the Iranian navy did not take the risk of arresting the British sailors and marines from halting the merchant ships, climbing on board and at gun point searching the crew, the contents and the passengers, tomorrow, under another British mandate, extracted from the 1920's League of Nations or today's United Nations, as usual, they will be in Tehran kicking the doors down and at the point of bayonets arresting the Iranian young men and women, searching their homes for illegal literature and asking them who they are, what they are doing in their homes and where are the cells of the resistance fighters, as the U.S.-U.K. invading forces have done to the people of Iraq for more than 4 years.


The British authorities, mainly represented by Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, immediately claimed that their naval forces were in Iraq's waterways engaged in searching an Indian-flagged merchant ship under the power of the British mandate authorized by the United Nations.


There are many indisputable facts, maps and testimonies of the sailors themselves that attest to the actual truth that the present rulers of Britain, just like in the old times, are in absolute denial and willfully distort the reality of their violation of Iran's territorial sovereignty. 


In order to force Iran to agree to forfeit its right of defending the integrity of its territorial waters and hence accept the violations as a "routine" and normal big-power practice, the British authorities began trying to isolate Iran through aggressive world-wide propaganda and bringing pressure on other countries, particularly the European Union, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to break their trade and economic relations with Iran.  In this regard they were unsuccessful, because the major European countries have vested interests in Iran's oil and gas reserves, not to mention the auto industry and other industrial sectors.  To orchestrate an anti-Iranian front, the U.S. and Britain urged other countries to persuade Iran to release the British sailors.  But such "ganging up" tactics resulted in the hardening of the Iranian position as to the legality of the British demands.  As if inattentive to the consequences of his antagonizing assertions, Tony Blair warned Iran that Britain's campaign to free its troops would move to a "different phase" if the sailors and marines were not released immediately.  Certainly, Mr. Blair was raising the risk level by issuing big-sounding bluffs.


To raise the tension with the aim of isolating Iran among the imperialist cohorts, Britain on March 28 decided to take the issue to the U.N., hoping that the international organization would issue a letter condemning Iran by restating London's claim that the Britons were in Iraqi waters, and the sailor's detention by the Iranians is considered to be "abhorrent".  However, the representative of Russia did not accept the British assumption that the navy vessels were in Iraqi waterways and on that basis the sailor's detention should be characterized as "abhorrent".  All these attempts infuriated the Iranian government, solidifying their stance and leading to a hardening of their position, raising the possibility that the Iranian government would refer the British sailors/marines to their courts and pursue the issue through Iran's legal system. 


BBC News reported that the "U.K. failed to win support for a strong statement" deploring Iran's action.  To inform the British authorities about their hazardous attempt to involve a third party in the dispute, the Iranian U.N. mission issued a statement to the effect that "This case can and should be settled through bilateral channels.  The British   government attempt to engage third parties, including the Security not helpful," said Iran's United Nations representative.  The lack of sophistication and far-sightedness on Blair's part, who has been so used to acting illegally, being a number one partner of Bush's "coalition of the willing" that he ignored the fact that the British government has been under pressure as a result of keeping British troops for more than four years in theaters of already lost wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The British hoped by mobilizing their allies in Europe, the U.N. and the U.S. to express their outrage at the seizure of the 15 soldiers, they could isolate Iran and force it into submission and legitimize Britain (and the U.S.) naval presence in the mouth of Arvand River, the Iranian name for the Shatt-Al-Arab.


Amongst all the nations and parties on earth, the U.S. government, as usual, stuck its nose deeply into the dispute and used it to denigrate the Iranian government.  To cover up its own miserable rate of popularity and opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, out of sheer malevolence, Washington declared that the Iranian government and people do not share the same views on nuclear rights.  A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, acting in his usual arrogant manner, went even further by saying "We need to accelerate a lot of things that are already underway: keeping Iran out of the international financial markets more fully, denying them materials and technology they need to complete their effort to gain mastery over the nuclear fuel cycle.  But I think, ultimately, the only thing that will stop regime change in Tehran."


Meanwhile at least two of the detained British sailors and marines had admitted that they illegally entered Iranian waters.  Two days following their arrest, Leading Seaman Faye Turney confessed that "Obviously we trespassed into their waters.  They were very friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people.  They explained to us why we've been arrested.  There was no harm, no aggression."  A day later this 26-year-old mother of a young child asked why Britain is not withdrawing its troops out of Iraq.  Her statements were video-broadcast Wednesday on Iran's Arab-language satellite channel.  British Seaman Turney also urged Britain's MP's to challenge the government as to why its presence in the Persian Gulf has led to another diplomatic conflict with Iran.           Turney wrote in a letter delivered to the British Parliament on March 29: "I ask the representatives of the House of Commons after the government had promised that this type of incident would not happen again, why have they let this occur and why has the government not been questioned over this?" "Isn't it time for us to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?"  


A day later, on Friday, March 30th, a second member of the British crew detained by Iran apologized for "trespassing" in the Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf.  Seaman Nathan Thomas Summers stated, "I would like to apologize for entering your waters without permission.  And that happened back in 2004, and the government promised that it wouldn't happen again. Again, I deeply apologize for entering your waters."


On Sunday, April 01, 2007, two more Royal Naval personnel confessions on Iranian television in front of a map further strengthened the stance of the Iranian government that the British sailors and marines were seized in Iranian waters. "At approximately about 10 o'clock in the morning we were seized, apparently at this point here from their maps and the GPS they showed us, which is inside Iranian territorial waters," Captain Chris Ayre said in the video released to international broadcasters.  The second Briton said: "My name is Lieutenant Felix Carmen...Yes, I'd like to say to the Iranian people, I can understand why you were so angry about our intrusion into your waters..."


By April 2, 2007, according to a report in the semi-official news agency ISNA, all 15 U.K. sailors confessed to illegally entering Iranian waters and their confessions were videotaped. However, a government spokesman went on to say, "But due to the positive changes in the past two days by the British government, the television will not broadcast the interviews." 


In an attempt to prove the position of the British boats before their arrest, Downing Street provided a rough sketch of the northern part of the Persian Gulf, where the Arvand River empties into the Gulf at Abadan, Iran.  The map included the demarcation line between Iraq and Iran's territorial waters.  London pretended that the map was already at hand in the naval offices of Britain before the incident.  But the balloon of the British Empire was punctured further when the former head of the Foreign Office's maritime section, Craig Murray, wrote that "The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist.  It has been drawn up by the British government," following the arrest of the seamen. "This published boundary is a fake with no legal force," he said. 


The truth is that the British have violated Iranian territorial waters many times before.  The following is a short list of the violations of Iranian territory by the British armed forces, as reported on Thursday, March 29, 2007: 

Let's have a brief look at violations of Iranian territory by the British armed forces:

1. British unmanned reconnaissance plane RPV violated Iranian airspace in northeastern Abadan in June 2004 and was hit by Iranian anti-aircraft guns. RPV debris is available.

2. At 11 O'clock local time on June 22, 2004, three British speed boats with eight navy personnel on board trespassed Iranian borders and were arrested by Iranian coast guards.

3. At 21:30 local time on November 1, 2006, two British Black awks (choppers) from Royal Navy hovered at the height of 150 meters at 47,700-17,400 coordinates on Khorramshahr map (Pole-No: new bridge) violating Iranian airspace and they entered Iraqi territory through 62,500-15,500 coordinates after 10 minutes.

4. On January 27, 2007 a British helicopter flew over mouth of Arvandrud (Arvand river) and violated Iran's airspace and they left the area after a warning from Iranian coast guards.

5. Three British Navy boats entered Khor Mousa mouth in Iranian territorial waters on February 28, 2007.

The sixth was trespass of two British Navy boats with 15 marines on board into Iranian territorial waters at Arvandrud which led to their arrest by Iranian coast guards.

If George W. Bush and Tony Blair truly believe in the peaceful resolution of their differences with Iran, Washington and London must stop kidnapping Iranian officials and diplomats working in Iraq and elsewhere.  Secondly, as a good will gesture they must agree to exchange the Iranian diplomats held captive by the U.S. military for the release of the British seamen and woman held by the Iranian government.  This is not a tit-for-tat or quid pro quo, but a gesture of reciprocity, a step toward peace in the Middle East. By the time this article was receiving its finishing touches, Mehr News Agency announced that the second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, Jalal Sharafi, who was kidnapped in Baghdad on February 4, was freed and returned to Iran on Tuesday, April 3, 2007.  Sharafi was kidnapped by a group connected to the Defense Ministry which operates under the supervision of the U.S. military intelligence forces in Iraq.


Ardeshir Ommani's Bio:

 Ardeshir Ommani is a writer and an activist in the anti-war and anti-imperialist struggle for many years, including against the Vietnam War.  Ardeshir is a co-founder of the American-Iranian Friendship Committee (AIFC) , where news of his most recent visit to Iran in March & April 2006 can be read.  He helped launch the successful campaign.  In the 1960's, he was a co-founder of the Iranian Students Association (ISA), which contributed to the struggle against the Shah of Iran. 

His most recent article: Rational Way to Go: Détente with Iran


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