From the Guardian report:
In the first few days after the captives were seized and British diplomats were getting no news from Tehran on their whereabouts, Pentagon officials asked their British counterparts: what do you want us to do? They offered a series of military options, a list which remains top secret given the mounting risk of war between the US and Iran. But one of the options was for US combat aircraft to mount aggressive patrols over Iranian Revolutionary Guard bases in Iran, to underline the seriousness of the situation.
The British declined the offer and said the US could calm the situation by staying out of it. London also asked the US to tone down military exercises that were already under way in the Gulf...
At the request of the British, the two US carrier groups, totalling 40 ships plus aircraft, modified their exercises to make them less confrontational.
The British government also asked the US administration from Mr Bush down to be cautious in its use of rhetoric, which was relatively restrained throughout...
A senior Iranian source with close ties to the Revolutionary Guard, told the Guardian: "If this had been between Iranian and American soldiers it could have been the beginning of an accidental war."
With the crisis now over, a remarkable degree of consensus is emerging among British, Iranian and Iraqi officials about what happened over 13 nervous days - namely that the decision to seize the Britons was taken locally, and was not part of a grander scheme cooked up in Tehran.
As it turns out (though we didn't hear about this factor at the time from either the Bush administration or from reporters), most of the Iranian leadership was on vacation for the new year festival, and did not re-assemble in Tehran until earlier this week. As soon they were able to assess what the trouble-makers in the "Revolutionary Guards" had done in their absence, the leading factions in the Iranian government decided to bring the crisis to an end.
In the meantime, Bush could easily have provoked a major war if he'd been left to his own devices. One of the real fears connected to US saber-rattling in the Gulf has been that an accidental conflict could escalate quickly into war for little reason.
The administration is undoubtedly planning some sort of action, but hasn't decided whether to carry it out. The danger lies in inadvertent escalation, where a saber-rattling United States and a rattled Iran stumble into a war that neither really wants.
Indeed sending large naval task forces into the Gulf seemed designed to create exactly that spark to a conflagration.
But the administration's actions are increasing the chances for an accidental confrontation. People don't realize how small and narrow the Gulf is, especially as you approach the Straits of Hormuz. The tanker/container and related commerce traffic is incredible and it goes on twenty-four hours a day. We've already got one carrier battle group there and now we're going to put in another one, which will add a huge footprint. When you have, on both sides, nineteen-year-olds manning weapons, it's a formula for an accident that could spin out of control.
This minor incident looks to be the war-that-didn't-quite-happen.
crossposted from Unbossed
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