Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Exhuming Jenkins' Ear

Friends, Romans...
Now what do we do? The seizure by Iran of British sailors and Marines, in Iraqi territorial waters, in which they were operating by UN mandate, is an act of piracy. Iran has once again shown contempt for international law, as it did in 2004. This shouldn't be a surprise - after all the Islamic revolution in Iran began with the invasion of the US Embassy, in flagrant breach of every diplomatic convention in history. There is a precedent, of a sort, for this sort of thing. In 1731, a British privateer, Robert Jenkins, was boarded by the Spanish Garda Costa off Cuba, tortured and had his ear sliced off.
The result in that case was an indecisive war, marked by enormous casualties from disease and little permanent change. Britain now lacks the capacity for such adventuring, and would do even if it were not embroiled in two concurrent campaigns. But then: what to do? Issuing protests, summoning ambassadors, complaining about maritime law: all are useless against a regime that has abandoned even the pretence of adherence to legality. Military action? Even if directed by the US and Israel, this is a course whose costs are disproportionate to its benefits. Economic sanctions? Targeted travel bans? Both require muliti-lateral agreement throughthe UN - not always easy to obtain.
We're looking toothless, and in many ways that's because we are. A more rigorous defence of British shipping in the Straits of Hormuz might be one way to go forward - ensuring that sailors cannot be ambushed, or that if they are they are capable of defending themselves. But that looks like a recipe for escalation. As with Zimbabwe, as with Iran - the rights and wrongs of the matter are easy to see; it is the proper response that is a conundrum.
UPDATE: This is, incidentally, an act of war on a member of NATO. So, if anyone's looking for a casus belli...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re de-escalation : It seems to me that after years of recruitment adverts featuring helicopters rescuing old ladies from gales, and soldiers disarming gun-totin' thugs just by taking off their sunglasses, HM Forces and their political masters have started to believe their own publicity! I am amazed that no one appears to be asking the question why they were allowed to be captured in the first place. Our enemies are starting to get the impression that our forces cannot defend themselves let alone the nation. Heads should roll.

12:17 pm  
Blogger Ross said...

Iran's economy is based on oil exporting so why not prevent oil tankers entering Iranian waters and perhaps bomb their pipelines. This would be within our capacity for action and would not lead directly to any deaths.

5:25 pm  

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