- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

With the 15 British hostages now safely home, the question is: Who gained more from this incident — the U.K. or Iran? Let us examine the scorecard.

(1) After several Iranian boats armed with Islamic Republican Guard Corps personnel surrounded the two inflatable boats in which 15 Brits were embarked in Iraqi — not Iranian — waters, the U.K. submitted global positioning data in support of this position. If a rational bone existed within the Iranian leadership’s collective body, the U.K. should get credit for rationally attempting to quickly defuse this incident by providing documented proof. However, because rationality and legality are of no consequence to Islamic extremists, the U.K., being in the right, gets no points.

(2) The Brits’ Rules of Engagement (ROEs), under the circumstances giving rise to this incident, did not allow use of deadly force to prevent it.

Operating in this region of the world 24 years earlier, the U.S. had learned the cost of restrictive ROEs with the suicide bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. ROEs then prohibited sentries from carrying weapons with chambered rounds. Thus, the Marine sentry who observed a truck speeding toward the barracks struggled to insert a loaded magazine into his weapon as the driver raced past him toward the barracks. By causing this delay of seconds in locking and loading a weapon, the ROEs cost the lives of 241 US servicemen. (In 2003, a U.S. court held Iran directly responsible for this attack.) For the U.K.’s restrictive ROEs: Point, Iran.

(3) Soon after Iran took the 15 Brits hostage and the U.K. submitted certifiable evidence providing the exact coordinates in support of their position that proved the Brit boats were in Iraqi waters, the Iranians disagreed, submitting their own (undocumented) coordinates. However, the Iranian coordinates, while different from the U.K.’s, still plotted within Iraqi territory. When this was pointed out, the Iranians resubmitted new coordinates (again undocumented) which, this time, obviously, plotted within Iranian territory. For Iranian stupidity in submitting an initial set of coordinates contrary to their own stated legal position, it is: Point, U.K.

(4) For the U.K.’s failure to focus public opinion on Iran’s blunder in first reporting coordinates falling in Iraqi vice Iranian territory, thus supporting the U.K.’s legal position, it is: Point, Iran.

(5) For the U.K.’s, the U.N.’s and Iraq’s failure to focus on Iran’s violation of Iraqi territory, based on it own initial coordinates, to effect the capture of the Brits, it is: Point, Iran.

(6) For the U.K.’s failure to focus on how, according to Tehran’s allegations, the Brits violated Iranian territory while the Indian merchant ship the Brits had just boarded did not, it is: Point, Iran.

(7) While all the details surrounding the Brits’ captivity and the psychological pressure applied against them by the Iranians are still being determined, their collective conduct was embarrassing to their country and damaged Western prestige in the region. Britain’s top naval officer defended their conduct, saying they acted with “considerable dignity and a lot of courage.” Obviously, the Brits have a different standard of conduct in this regard than do we. Former POW John McCain, despite enduring torture and years of captivity during the Vietnam War, never broke, even declining an offer for an early return home, unless all his fellow prisoners returned with him. For such embarrassing conduct by the Brit hostages, it is: Point, Iran.

(8) For the hostages’ failure to demand they be allowed to depart Iran in their uniforms instead wearing Iranian suits, posing alongside a smiling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as if they were tourists departing Disneyland taking a last photo op with Goofy, it is: Point, Iran.

(9) For having achieved the safe return of its hostages, it is: Point, U.K.

(10) For not having to issue an official apology for territorial infringement it never committed, it is: Point, U.K.

Although in the right, overall, the U.K. came out a loser in this incident.

Mr. Ahmadinejad continues to play the role of Middle East arsonist. He has started fires in Lebanon using Hezbollah, in Gaza and the West Bank using Hamas, and in Iraq using Shi’ite militias. The international crisis he created in taking the 15 Brits hostage is yet another fire started, only to be put out by him after it achieved sufficient burn to further damage Western prestige. As Nero rejoiced while Rome burned, so too does a jubilant Mr. Ahmadinejad as the Middle East burns.

He will continue such arsonist policies until either the Middle East is consumed by fire or he is. Sadly, based on the final score of this latest crisis, the greater likelihood may be the former rather than the latter.

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, an antiterrorism education and advocacy group.

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