On 24 March when news started pouring in that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have taken into custody 15 British marines (from the British frigate HMS Cornwal) off the Persian Gulf, it sent shivers across the world. The pandemonium peaked as neither Iran nor the United Kingdom was ready to budge. While on one hand, the Iranian authorities claimed that the marines in their speedboats had crossed over into Iranian territorial waters, the British authorities, on the other hand, as usual, had been strongly refuting this claim. Finally, Iran’s announcement of releasing the hostages eased the mounting tension, at least for now. Otherwise, it could have led to Gulf War III or, who knows, an eventual World War III. I wonder for how long can Iran avert the impending war.

The most significant, yet unanswered, questions in this episode were – Was it mere coincidence that the British marines crossed over into Iranian territorial waters around this time? Or was it that this incident was made to happen? Well, let’s take one issue at a time. This pandemonium was building since the Iraq saga came to an end with the execution of Saddam Hussein. And since then, it was a more of a foregone conclusion that Iraq was about to be followed by another western adventure in Iran. Iran too had been keen to demonstrate – not just by rhetoric, but also by perpetual war games – that its armed forces have been waiting to prove that Iran is no Iraq, and that it is not going to be a sitting duck waiting to be chastised by US-led forces. Their war demonstrations and the series of long range missiles (the 1,300-km range Shehab-3 and anti-ship stealth missiles) that they tested last year were basically to make the US-led coterie take note of what was waiting for them. As usual, for the time being, President George Bush preferred to look the other way; but there has never been doubt in anyone’s mind that war preparations have been going on full throttle at the Pentagon; and that the US would strike – be it today or tomorrow. It would be fanciful thinking to pretend to the contrary. It is not a question of ‘whether’ the US would strike, but ‘when’.

Keeping this in mind, there are two or three ways of looking at the British marines incident. I won’t be surprised, and perhaps many others would not be either, if later it is revealed that this entire plan was laid by the CIA to trap Iran (remember the WMDs!). If that was so, Iran fell into the trap initially and captured the marines giving rise to the ideal flare-up that the US was keenly waiting for since a long time. For the past few days, as Iran had been parleying and showcasing the arrested soldiers, the threats by Tony Blair have made the mercury shoot up, along with the oil price; while the world had been waiting with bated breath,

not knowing in which direction this would go. Though it was made apparent that neither Iran nor Britain was itching to go to war, the way both the countries had been dealing with the crisis could have only led the world towards that direction. In fact the US was almost successful in creating an ideal stage to put into force the propaganda machinery portraying Ahmadinejad as the perpetrator of global terrorism, which would then make it easier for the US to pitch for the next round of sanctions on Teheran in the UN Security Council.

As I had mentioned in an earlier column, the US interest in Iran is more than obvious as the latter is sitting on one of the largest gas reserves of the world, making it geopolitically most strategic for them (the US). With soaring oil prices and depleting reserves, it is quite obvious that gas would not remain the ‘alternative’ fuel for long; and would become the main ideal fuel. And, in fact, Iran had already made the task of American propaganda much simpler by mobilising billions of dollars earned through gas towards defence production (though Iran cannot be solely blamed for this mobilisation – given the type of threat Iran has been persistently facing, it is only obvious that they would indulge in such moves). The Americans were eyeing an opportunity to strike.

This was evident from the way the US conducted itself in the entire episode. They had been completely tight-lipped, which I think was more dangerous than when they talk about their war plans. Not only have they not been saying much against Iran recently, they have not even come to the aid of UK, which again depicts two interesting characteristics. One, that they are nobody’s friends. UK had been through thick and thin with the Americans in all their wrongdoings in Iraq; and even took much criticism for it. The British have time and again been asked to pass tests of friendship by coming to the aid of the US with men, money, material and moral support. But at a time when the British needed US help, that help did not come (it might be a lesson for many who have been blindly in favour of increasing Indo-American bonhomie). In fact, their prolonged silence was making it increasingly evident that the US was actually waiting for Iran to make the mistake of executing the British soldiers, as that would have given them the perfect excuse to start their final assault.

The timely decision of Ahmadinejad to release the British hostages has not only spoilt the American build-up, but has averted a huge crisis, at least for now! But the question would keep hounding us – how long can Iran avert the inevitable? The day Iran falls into the trap, we would see the beginning of the end of this world.

Related Articles