Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Iranian-staged capture of 15 British service members who were clearly in Iraqi waters needs to be seen as another blatant “act of war” against the United States. This time, the mullahs’ target was the United Kingdom, America’s closest ally in the war against terrorism. This was a calculated act by Iran either in response to the United Nations Security Council’s sanctions against Iran for its failure to comply with the call to cease its nuclear enrichment program or more likely in retaliation for the five Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds personnel captured in Iraq distributing munitions and other support to the insurgents.

This is the same tactic Hezbollah and Hamas, acting under the guidance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have used against Israel for years to obtain the release of terrorists. The question is: What are we going to do about it?

I am sure that part of the calculus that went into the Ayatollah and his hard-line council of advisers decision to capture the British military personnel was the nonsupport shown by our Congress for our troops and the president; thereby, leading them to believe we would be incapable of responding to their aggression.

The same can be said for the British Parliament with regard to its nonsupport of their Prime Minister, Tony Blair. We cannot turn the other cheek again and look weak and embarrassed in the eyes of the world. We must stand firmly with our ally on this blatant act of war. Our credibility as well as our honor is on the line. Further, our response or lack thereof will have a major impact on whether we can achieve our objectives in Iraq.

In November 1979, when our embassy was sacked and our diplomats were taken hostage, I recommended to the then-acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Tom Hayward, that our only good option really was to capture Kharg Island, Iran’s principal oil export depot. If we did this, we could negotiate from a position of strength for the immediate return of our embassy and our diplomats.

Unfortunately, the Carter administration rejected any offensive operations as a means of responding to this blatant act of war against the United States. We were humiliated and seemed to the world to lack the courage to defend our honor. Thankfully, we were not faced with a Falklands Island situation because we did not have a Margaret Thatcher but surely needed one.

There is no time to waste. Immediate diplomatic and military pressure must be brought to bear to obtain the immediate release of the British sailors and marines. While our State Department and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office work to obtain U.N. and allied condemnation of Iran’s illegal act, the Joint Chiefs of Staff need to develop or refine a series of military options that can be immediately carried out when directed by the commander in chief, President Bush after coordination with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

One such option should be the capture of Kharg Island. That could be viewed as part of a larger economic sanction that the U.N. Security Council has already endorsed. It is not an attack against the Iranian people. In fact, it could further encourage the popular antigovernment movement against the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s corrupt and already shaky regime. The economic cost to Iran would be catastrophic at minimum.

Most of all, such a move would end almost 30 years of our Iranian appeasement policy, demonstrating to Tehran we finally mean business. If Iran fails to respond to this measured action, we must be prepared to execute more forceful options. The choice would be Iran’s to make.

James A. Lyons Jr., U.S. Navy retired admiral, is a former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations. As deputy chief of naval operations, he was principal adviser on Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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