The kidnapping of the 15 British sailors has created a new drama in the ever volatile Persian Gulf. Although my esteemed colleague has said that the British must scream "war crimes" I am not exactly sure what that will get them, or the international community in general. Iran has already kicked out IAEA inspectors, which are under UN auspices. Perhaps claiming war crimes could help, but would it simply lead to more UN sanctions? Or would claiming war crimes actually lead to military action? By whom?
The UN last week passed new "targeted" sanctions on several Iranians and a large bank The sanctions were passed by all members of the Permanent 5, meaning that Iran has already begun to isolate it's allies China and Russia. When Iran took the Britons onto their ships, what were they thinking? That they would look tough? That they would appeal to their domestic audience by making fools of the "Little Satan"? Or was this somehow posturing gone awry on the part of the Iranians? Whatever the reason, taking the Britons hostage will further alienate the global community from the Iranian cause.
It is not easy to predict what now will happen in Iran. It is doubtful that the Iranians will hold the Britons for 444 days, as was the case with the American hostages. It is also doubtful that Iran will just give the sailors back without some kind of concession. However, with the entire world worried about Iran's bellicose behavior and nuclear weapons, concessions of any kind seem unlikely.
The question at the moment is, will this event lead to drastic action? The European Unions' Javier Solana has already said that Britain is a part of the EU and that this action was considered an affront to the entire European Union..(Although I doubt the EU could even coordinate military action, let alone take it.) Perhaps the taking will prompt military action that so many have long predicted?
In my mind however, the long-term question is, what was Iran thinking? Was the taking of the British sailors a coordinated action on behalf of the entire Iranian government? Or a more radical sector of the government exerting control? If that is the case, are there serious fissures withing the Iranian government, which will create new tensions and problems for the international community. Was Iran simply hoping to bump up the price of oil, as one of friends suggested, by making the oil markets even more volatile?
Whatever the answer, Iranian actions over the coming weeks and months will be important signs as to how the tense situation between Iran and the world will finally play out...