Thursday, April 05, 2007

Release of British Sailors with an Eye to the Future

I certainly was surprised to see Iran releasing 15 sailors held hostage Wednesday. In reality, the move raises more questions than answers, and these questions may have a huge impact on the future of international relations over the next many years.

The capturing of the British sailors certainly raised Iran’s prestige in the eyes of other Middle Eastern countries. It showed once again that Iran is not afraid of the West, and that they consider themselves a military force to be reckoned with. Further, the method of their release does nothing to change that perception, maintaining the powerful image of Iran while giving the country an air of benevolence.

Admittedly, I don’t buy it. I don’t believe for one second that Iran released the British sailors out of the kindness of their hearts, and I don’t think President Ahmadinejad’s resolve wavered one bit. Further, I don’t think he feared American or British retribution. So why were the sailors released when they were, and in the manner they were released? We may never know the answers, but some clues do exist.

There’s been a great deal of discussion about Syria’s role in the release of the sailors, as well as Nancy Pelosi’s role in the diplomatic relations. For years, I have indicated that Bashar al-Assad of Syria is not the evil dictator that many believe him to be, and this may be the first sign of his true nature. Al-Assad saw first hand that ruthlessness and fear bolster your image in the Middle East, but his education and speeches paint a picture of a moderate with a real desire to reform Syria.

Bashar alAssad quickly recognized the ascension of President Ahmadinejad in Iran, and fixed his wagon to the ultra-religious president. But has al-Assad’s actions been that of a tyrant, or has his actions in Syria and Lebanon been merely a way for him to attach himself to Ahmadinejad? Only time will tell, but al-Assad’s role in the release of the British sailors certainly may be cause for optimism.

However, I doubt highly that al-Assad could have completely convinced Ahmadinejad to release the prisoners. My tendency is to believe that there must have been a benefit for Iran in the release. My first thought is a back-channel deal to arrange the release of the Iranian soldiers being held by the US. Another thought is negotiations with Iraq to allow Iranian soldiers to take a more active role in Iraq.

But I can’t help but suspect that for Iran to release the prisoners, they somehow need to believe that their own image in the Middle East will be bolstered by the move. Iran was unable to gain the support of the majority of the Middle Eastern countries in the South Lebanon conflict, primarily because most countries saw Iran as the instigator. On the other hand, Muslims throughout the world protested the Mohamed cartoons because they felt the cause was righteous.

As proof mounted that the sailors were not in Iraqi waters, the justification of their capture eroded. Perhaps Iran believes that by foregoing this cause, which is not justified, they’ll gain support on the next issue. Or perhaps Ahmadinejad believes that being seen as merciful will help other Middle Eastern countries to see them the same way in the future.

Either way, I believe the real motivation for releasing the soldiers has everything to do with future conflicts between Iran and the West. Let’s hope the true motivation behind Iran’s actions come out before they can take advantage of this latest ploy.

Posted by Scottage at 12:17 AM / | |