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    Middle East
     Apr 3, 2007
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A Falklands War in the Persian Gulf
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

"Rejoice! Rejoice!" Those were the words of the British "Iron Lady", then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher, exactly 25 years ago when she broke the news about the capture and scuttling of the Argentine submarine ARA Santa Fe off the island of South Georgia, at the opening of what is known as the Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas).

That was the "good war" that carried Thatcher to re-election victory, a far cry from the "bad war" in Iraq bedeviling the current

and outgoing prime minister, Tony Blair. But with the growing crisis over the detained British sailors fanning the flames of patriotism in both Iran and Britain, and incessant criticisms of weak responses by the Foreign Office in nearly all British papers, Thatcher nostalgia is rising steadily, particularly in light of the similar US backing of Britain in both cases.

In the Falklands War, then-US president Ronald Reagan turned his back on a fellow Western Hemisphere nation and backed Britain. Similarly, today we find the US throwing its weight fully behind London, in light of President George W Bush's statement on Saturday calling for the immediate release of the British sailors deemed "innocent hostages".

Clearly, the ties that bind Washington and London run too deep to expect a balanced, fair-minded approach that would avoid rushing to judgment by adopting the much-controverted British version of facts and thus acting as the judge and the jury without an iota of attention to the Iranian side of the story. Thus, unless the diplomatic efforts currently under way bear fruit, the gathering storms of a fourth Gulf War rekindling memories of the Falklands War may be inevitable.

There are, of course, stark dissimilarities between the two cases, as Iran is adept in asymmetrical warfare and can strike back at the British forces in southern Iraq, compared with the Argentines, who did not have much leverage. Moreover, the surrounding circumstances are not particularly favorable to the US-UK side either, given the recent denunciation of "illegitimate foreign occupation" of Iraq by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, endorsed by the Arab summit.

Interestingly, a number of right-wing media pundits in the United States, such as Briton Niall Ferguson in the Los Angeles Times, have been oblivious to the differences between the Falklands War and the crisis over the British sailors, eg, the latter is an extension of an illegal war in Iraq threatening a wider war with a recalcitrant regional player unwilling to submit to Western hegemonic designs.

To open a parenthesis, Ferguson's warmongering and Thatcher nostalgia remind us of his pro-Iraq-invasion columns when he unabashedly predicted that the Iraqi people would embrace the invaders "with open arms" and that it would be "relatively short campaign".

Learning nothing from their erroneous past predictions, Ferguson and a number of other US pundits are now pushing for another glorious war, this time in the name of British "honor". For the moment, however, the prewar stage is being set by a media campaign over semantics: Hostages or prisoners?

War over semantics
"Kidnapped sailors", read a CNN headline the other day, and when this author objected in the course of his interview with CNN International, as tantamount to the lack of neutrality and a sign that the network was biased against Iran, the program host insisted that no one in CNN subscribed to that terminology and that turned out to be on CNN/US but not CNN International.

Thus the term "a second hostage crisis" seeping into the US media, drawing parallels with the 444-day US Embassy hostage crisis in 1979-80. Certainly, few people in Iran are in favor of such a scenario, and former president Mohammad Khatami has echoed the sentiment of many Iranians by warning about the "a new disaster" potentiated by this crisis.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has, meanwhile, spearheaded a moderate stance by dispatching a formal letter of protest to the British government and demanding a written guarantee that there will be no more trespassing of Iranian territory by the British forces. After initially dismissing the letter, Mottaki's British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, has sent a formal response that is reportedly somewhat conciliatory, opening the door for diplomacy.

While we await the results of the flurry of diplomatic activities, which includes the intervention of Turkish and Iraqi politicians, as well as by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the struggle by both sides over which terms to use to win over world public opinion continues.

Holes in the British version
Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and former head of the Foreign Office's Maritime Section, has drilled effective large holes in the official story put out by the British government.

According to Murray, there are no recognized Iran-Iraq boundaries in the Persian Gulf, where the incident took place. "Blair adopted the stupid and confrontational approach of publishing maps and ignoring the boundary dispute, thus claiming a blurry situation is crystal-clear and the Iranian totally in the wrong." Criticizing the Blair government's lies in "doctoring" the "faked maps", Murray has been the lone voice in the wilderness of British media daring to question the official story.

The British tabloids, evincing what is aptly coined by a commentator as a "hysteric Anglo-Saxon response", would have none of that and, unfortunately, their jingoistic sensationalism has rubbed off on such mainstream papers as The Times, whose columnists have also aired their sudden nostalgia for the Iron Lady.

The Independent, on the other hand, has somewhat distinguished itself by a spate of commentaries questioning Blair's new respect for "international law", which according to the paper "has little morality" given his bleak record with respect to the invasion of Iraq, deemed "illegal" by the former UN chief, Kofi Annan. [1]

The only problem with Murray's incisive debunking of the British official story, however, is that he overlooks a potential hidden motive, ie, London's ability to reinsert itself in Iraq's long-term (geo) political calculus by the mere initiative of offering a map that, while it has come as a total shock to Iraqi officials, nonetheless serves to play a role in future Iran-Iraq negotiations over their maritime boundaries.

In light of Murray's keen observation that the British map shows the boundary drawn closer to the Iranian than the Iraqi shores, Iran had no choice but to reject it and, if need be, take this "jurisdictional" issue to the international forums, in light of the pressing issue of customary international law that, in the absence of such objections, would make the British-inspired imaginary lines in the Persian Gulf stick.

Incidentally, the websites of the US government, including the Central Intelligence Agency Factbook on Iran, clearly state that there is no recognized boundary between Iran and Iraq in the Persian Gulf. Thus the question: On what basis has President Bush accepted the British explanation that the said sailors are "innocent" and were in Iraqi waters when arrested? The same 

Continued 1 2 

US silent on detained Iranians (Mar 31, '07)

Iran ahead of the game - for now (Mar 30, '07)


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