The Iranian kidnap operation

Times:

The British sailors and marines being held by Iran were ambushed at their most vulnerable moment, while climbing down the ladder of a merchant ship and trying to get into their bobbing inflatables.

Out of sight of their warship and without any helicopter cover, their only link to their commanders was a communications device beaming their position by satellite.

That went dead as they were captured. One theory is that it was thrown overboard to prevent the Iranians getting hold of the equipment and the information it contained.

The Ministry of Defence released the coordinates of the searched vessel yesterday to prove that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards made an unprovoked and improper attack in Iraqi waters.

The Iranians also blundered in diplomatic talks by giving the British their own compass reference for the place where they said the 14 men and one woman had been seized. When Britain plotted these on a map and pointed out that the spot was in Iraq’s maritime area, the Iranians came up with a new set of coordinates, putting the seizure in their own waters.

The speed and cunning shown by the Revolutionary Guards has raised suspicions that their action was premeditated. A senior military officer described it as “deliberate”.

It took only three minutes for the Iranians, moving at 40 knots, to move from their legitimate positions monitoring shipping in their waters to come alongside the British last Friday morning.

The sailors and marines from HMS Cornwall were in the Gulf, working under a United Nations mandate to protect Iraq from smuggling and threats to the oil industry, when an Indian-flagged vessel came under suspicion.

It was in shallow waters and the Cornwall was unable to go alongside without grounding. A boarding party jumped into two ribbed inflatable boats, or RIBs, and set out to investigate.

A helicopter hovered to observe the boarding but, after confirming that the Indian vessel was peaceful and friendly, returned to the ship. The Cornwall stayed in contact with the two launch boats via a communications link providing a GPS satellite position.

After the successful boarding of the innocent Indian vessel, the Britons began returning to their RIBs. At that moment one Iranian patrol vessel came alongside, adopting a friendly posture. As a second Iranian vessel arrived, the Revolutionary Guards turned aggressive.

HMS Cornwall lost communications with the launch boats and sent up the helicopter to investigate. The air crew watched as the small British inflatables were forced towards Iran. By now, up to four Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels were swarming round the Britons.

...

From the start, the Iranian Ambassador to London gave British diplomats a set of coordinates for the location of the confrontation.

Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, told the Iranian Foreign Minister that these compass points actually indicated a spot clearly in Iraqi waters. She tried to give Iran an exit route by suggesting that it might all be a misunderstanding that could be resolved by an immediate release of the captives.

...

Becket made the mistake of thinking the Iranians were operating in good faith. There was little basis for this assumption and sure enough the Iranians went back and "corrected" their coordinates so that they were in Iranian water. Even after this obvious bad faith the Brits gave them the benefit of the doubt that the Iranians had made a mistake until they flagrantly violated the Geneva Conventions by putting the kidnapped victims on TV with coerced stories.

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