An Act Of War

Imagine this. The Iranian Navy sends a boat out from its far-western port of Bandar-e Mahshahr to patrol against smugglers. The boat finds a Saudi-flagged ship it does not recognize in their territorial waters, and sends over a boarding party to inspect the cargo. Then, the USS Bataan enters Iranian seas, seizes the Iranian inspection craft, and arrests the Iranian sailors. Then, it sails back into international waters. The U.S. insists that the Saudi ship was in Iraqi waters and that the Iranians appeared to have “accidentally” boarded it, but that the captain of the Bataan couldn’t be quite sure that the Iranians weren’t trying to engage in some act of sabotage.

Would you consider this to be an act of war by the U.S. against Iran? Would you not expect the entire world to be howling in outraged protest against this act of naked, barefaced American aggression? Of course you would. And if the U.S. published two sets of locations indicating where there seizure took place, the first one being clearly within Iranian territory, you would say that the U.S. military are not only liars, but bad liars at that, and expect even greater outrage from world opinion.

But sometimes, the U.S. and in this case, one of its allies, are the victims of treatment like this. In real life, it’s our good friends in the UK who have to deal with the situation. And it’s outrageous.

The exact geographic coordinates of the location at which the fifteen British sailors and marines were taken by Iran is 29° 50’ 36” north, 48° 43’ 8” east. The map to the right, produced by the British Ministry of Defence (note the delightfully British spelling of that word), illustrates the two locations that the Iranian government has given for where they say they took the sailors. “In Iranian waters,” my ass. The British had every legal right to be in Iraqi waters and conduct coastal defense operations there, including inspecting Indian-flagged cargo ships for contraband – which is what these sailors were doing when the Iranians arrested them.

Now, riddle me this. If the Iranian government is so convinced that this so-called invasion of their territorial waters was an “accident,” why don’t they condemn the clumsy navigation of the British sailors and let them go? An accident is obviously not an act of war, it is by definition something done unintentionally. So why hold fifteen sailors hostage until their government admits that they made a mistake? (Which they didn’t, but that’s beside the point now, isn’t it?)

I realize that we Americans are not in the best position possible to provide guidance about getting Iran to release hostages. And let’s not forget, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad knows a thing or two about the value of taking western hostages. But unlike 1979, both the US and the UK do have basically all of our military right across the Shatt al-Arab.

I realize that the U.N. Security Council today expressed “grave concerns” with the situation, but somehow, that does not satisfy. What’s the U.N. going to do to Iran? Sanction Iran some more? Ooooh. Ahmadinejad’s gotta be shitting himself now.

I realize that diplomatic solutions must be used to resolve disputes before military force is undertaken. The UK Government is right to try and use talk and legal pressure to get their people released first.

And finally, I realize that we need to tread with great caution with respect to Iran, which is a powerful, wealthy, and sophisticated nation and one which has complex internal dynamics of its own which are even less well-understood to us now than those of Iraq were in 2003. I understand that a good argument can be made that this is exactly how we got into the mess we are in right now and we should proceed cautiously. And I accept that argument’s validity.

But a big part of me wants to see the Iranian government taught that Jimmy Carter isn’t calling the shots any more.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. Most reports indicate that the British sailors were in Iraqi waters, but both sides were probably using different maps with regard to Iraqi/Iranian waters. Regardless, the Iranians as well as the British should apologize for the incident and the sailors should be released. Both highly unlikely.The Persian Gulf is starting to fill up with American ships, and the Iranians are feeling intimidated. As a result, the Iranians are likely to hold on to the sailors until tension eases a bit. Who knows when that will be? The Iranians are wrong to do this, but I can understand why they might. The Iranians have very little trust in Western powers and this lack of trust is well founded. And in the West, especially the U.S., the feeling is mutual. The Iranians have reason to fear that their country might be attacked as a result of its legitimate nuclear program. The British have every right to be upset, but I suspect they will work diligently to resolve this diplomatically. The U.S. should remain silent (too late) concerning this matter as it will only upset Iran and hurt the diplomatic process. An Act of WAR? I don’t think so. We are talking about a difference of less than 2 miles (1.7). It’s not like they went 20 miles out of their way to get the British sailors. Anyway, it’s important to remember that a similar incident took place in 2004 in which 8 British servicemen actually entered Iranian territorial waters. They were released three days later. Anyway, are we really surprised something like this happened considering war is being fought to the left and right of Iran? Iran wrongly seized the sailors in an attempt to gain some leverage. Unfortunately, I believe the U.S. will use this as an opportunity to throw its weight around yet again. Is all of this reason for war? Absolutely not. For more on my thoughts concerning Iran, please visit the following link:

  2. Fair enough, although I’m not quite so understanding of the Iranian position as you are. If your evaluation of the Iranians’ motives is correct, then they are using these sailors as human shields. While I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to them, I can offer no moral justification for that sort of thing.I wonder, what would be intolerable enough to justify military action in your mind?

  3. “I wonder, what would be intolerable enough to justify military action in your mind?”Very little. I wrote an essay on my website (Should the US Attack Iran?) which discusses my ideas of justifiable wars. During the Iran hostage crisis, I’m sure many Americans would have liked war with Iran. Well, that would have meant many dead hostages. As a result of waiting it out (444 days), all hostages kept their lives. I don’t condone for a second the captivity of the 15 British sailors, nor do I condone previous activities by Iran, Great Britain, or the United States which have contributed to the current state of affairs.

  4. Those Loyal Readers who want to read Thomas’ factually rich essay can do so here and I commend it to everyone. While lengthy, its subject matter is quite complex and deserving of detailed treatment. It is a more than worthwhile read and it pays to educate yourself before offering an opinion.While I continue to disagree with the line Thomas has drawn, I do agree that diplomacy has not yet been exhausted for the situation. To me, this remains a morally unambiguous situation — the Brits are in the moral right and the Iranians are in the moral wrong, regardless of where the sailors were originally arrested. If it was an accidental intrusion into Iranian waters, the Iranians should release the sailors with a scolding. If it was an intentional intrusion by the Brits into Iranian waters (which I do not believe for a second), the Iranians should release the sailors with a stern scolding and a complaint to the United Nations. If it was an intentional intrusion into Iraqi waters by the Iranians (which seems the most likely scenario to me) the Iranians should release the sailors with an apology. All of this should have happened within a few hours of the arrest.The question confronting us now is what to do about the fact that the Iranians are not doing any of the above.

  5. Lets be honest with ourselves. We hope when the time comes Israel will blow up their nuclear facility and then the world will be secretly relieved.

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