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The report is here, I will update with snippets. I guess it will all blow over but it has a potential to escalate.

The Iranian navy has seized up to 15 British sailors, the Ministry of Defence confirmed today, sparking a diplomatic standoff between the UK and Iran.

Iran's ambassador to the UK was immediately summoned to the foreign office for what the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, described as a "brisk" meeting.

He was "left in no doubt" that Britain expected the immediate return of the sailors and their boats, she said.

The Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel were taken after they had boarded a dhow during a routine patrol in the Shatt al-Arab waterway at 10.30am local time.

I think we will be seeing an increase in these sorts of incidents. I guess the Dhow was an Iranian flagged vessel and the British didn't know or didn't care and the Dhow's captain called in to Iranian bases for assistance. That or the Dhow was a Q-ship trap set up to lure in a British fly.   Some background: They were nabbed by Pasdaran/Revolutionary Guards.  This has happened at least once before.

Would the Iranians do this to an American patrol? Or would it result in a war immediately?  I can't think of any incidents like this with American vessels in the recent past. I didn't know the Royal Navy was that aggressive in patrols and that the Iranians were shadowing them so closely.

This latest incident reminds me of Pristina Airport. The British were asked to grab the airport while the Russians were occupying the airstrip already. Either the British found a way out with vocal and reluctant commanders like Mick Jackson , or a real war starts because of American interference. The British are not very keen on fighting Iran for obvious reasons, Basra could be overrun and lots of precious ships would be sunk. The Commander of HMS Cornwall Nick Lambert wants this to be seen as a 'tactical' misunderstanding. He doesn't want his sailors getting beheaded or otherwise killed. So SOS Beckett is going to stamp her feet a bit and then the Iranians will release the Sailors. That is the likely scenario.

I tend to think this is Iran pulling the British beard and having a little laugh. Maybe a polite warning to the Americans as well.

However this capture could get out of hand. I don't know how many lesser incidents have happened in the area. Probably a few close calls we never heard about. Obviously both sides have been playing a cat and mouse game on the shatt al arab. The two sides seem happy to patrol very aggressively, which is a shame.  Someone will lose their cool and want revenge. The joke could get out of hand.

Why are British sailors exposing themselves to easy capture like this? why are the commanders allowing it to happen? They don't really want a war with a powerful state like Iran judging from HMS Cornwall's comments. And they know how vulnerable they are to Iranian tactics. Added to that the Iranians knew when the British were coming by the looks of the Pasdaran response: They used just enough force to overwhelm and surprise a detachment of Royal Marines and sailors, but not enough to show their true reach. I wonder how many minor confrontations have already occurred?  The Iranians are obviously monitoring British shipping very carefully and performed a very clever ambush.

Finally I'd like to see a record of naval clashes like this published so we can get a real idea of what is happening in the waterways on the border between Iran and Iraq. Is there already a secret way going on over control of the rivers?

Originally posted to Salo on Fri Mar 23, 2007 at 10:46 AM PDT.

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