Reports that 15 British marines were seized Friday by two Iranian vessels in the Shatt al-Arab waterway sparked outrage in the Britain and the United States. Coming on the heels of the news that the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose new sanctions on Iran, the detention of the British military personnel has the potential to be a spark leading to a wider regional conflict.
Some see the two events as connected, believing that the Iranians may be using the 15 men as bargaining chips against the UN sanctions. Under this scenario, Iran could be seen as sending a signal to the West about the future consequences of sanctions.
It is more likely, though, that the actions by Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Quds forces were to secure the release of five Iranians who were arrested by US troops at the Iranian embassy in Irbil, Iraq.
Official word has not been delivered by the Iranian government on the status of the British marines, but the newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted an Iranian military source who said that the aim was to trade the Royal Marines and sailors for the Iranians detained at Irbil.
The incident between Iranian and British military personnel occurred in the Shatt al-Arab waterway (known in Persian history as the Arvandrud), which begins at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and continues some 125 miles to the Persian Gulf. Control of this strategic waterway has long been a source of conflict between Arabs and Persians, and was one of the most hotly contested items in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.
Both Iran and Iraq use the river as a commercial thoroughfare, and officials in both nations fear losing access to the Gulf through the waterway. With the 1975 Algiers Accord, both sides agreed to honor a median boundary in the Arvandrud/Shatt al-Arab.
Some pundits will see the Iranian act as an excuse to escalate the growing conflict between the United States and Iran, and possibly justify a military attack on Iran. "Wild Bill" at the far-right Passionate America sums up the metality of the war hawks, and I'm not sure he is using hyperbole:
Tony Blair I beg you, stiffen your spine, readjust your sack, and turn sand into glass. Call Israel, call Bush, and call the thunder from down under and give these sand monkeys what they want, nuclear weapons.I can only pray that the views expressed by "Wild Bill" are not shared by American and British leaders.