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/ 9 Nissan, 5767
Just Like the Mullahs: Taking hostages is just standard operating procedure for Iran
The deep thinkers now torturing themselves for an explanation of the Iranian seizure of 15 British hostages should reread the ancient wisdom contained in the fable of the scorpion and the crocodile. The scorpion is desperate to cross the river, but can’t swim, so he begs the croc to give him a ride. The croc is afraid the scorpion will sting him. The scorpion promises he won’t. The croc gives him the ride. As they get to the far bank, the scorpion stings. The croc is disgusted and cries out “why did you do that? You promised...” And the scorpion says, “but I’m a scorpion.”
Ditto for the mullahs. They took the hostages because that is what they do. They’ve been doing it for a long time. To get a sense of how big this phenomenon has been, just consider that in January, 1989, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Amal reported that, since the mid-Seventies, when the epidemic of kidnapping began, more than 100 hostages had been taken in more than 75 separate incidents. One of the leading kidnappers was the Iranian creature, Islamic Jihad, which thoughtfully explained the practice in a letter to Javier Perez de Cuellar, then secretary-general of the United Nations, in August, 1991:
The issue of detainees and prisoners in the world is one of the outcomes of our confrontation with the powers of hegemony, which America leads as the mother of all corruption along with its germ Israel...As such, the issue of detainees is the reaction of Muslim freedom fighters to those practices. It is also an effort to release our mujahideen who are in prison. And this kind of reaction will continue as long as we are facing the same deeds, and because we believe in the necessity of work to release our freedom fighters from the prisons of occupied Palestine and Europe, and to solve the problem of those we hold in our prisons.
That’s all you need to know, really. The Iranians have two basic reasons to take hostages. One is to break our will and drive us out of the region; the other is to trade their prey for their comrades now in our grip, of whom there is a significant number (several hundred Iranian intelligence and military officers have been captured in Iraq in recent months, according to good U.S. government sources).
Why now? Because now is when they succeeded in doing it; they’ve been trying all along.
Why Brits rather than Americans? In truth, they would prefer Americans, and, as we know thanks to an enormously important scoop in the current U.S. News & World Report, they had at least one failed attempt to do just that, last September. According to a fairly detailed report dated September 7th, from the 101st Airborne Division, a U.S. Cavalry group patrolling the Iran/Iraq border with six Iraqis came across a couple of Iranian soldiers on the Iraqi side of the border. When the Iranians saw them, they jumped back into Iran. Later, “the patrol came upon a single Iranian soldier on the Iraqi side of the border who did not flee.” So the joint patrol engaged the nice Iranian in conversation (at that time, the rules of engagement did not permit us to shoot or arrest the nice Iranians). During the schmooze, an Iranian platoon suddenly appeared and its commander informed the joint patrol that “if they tried to leave their location the Iranians would fire upon them.”
This turned out to be a bit of an understatement, since the Iranian platoon interrupted the conversation shortly thereafter by starting to shoot with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. “The CF Soldiers returned fire to break contact and left the area to report the incident” (don’t you love the 1984-style language? A simple English translation would have been better: “We shot back at the bastards and got the hell out of there”). The Iranians kept on firing but didn’t hit anyone.
And, by the way, the Iraqi-army guys stayed with the Iranians.
So the Iranians set up a trap, apparently in cahoots with the six Iraqis. We walked into it, but when push came to shove we didn’t surrender; we shot back and lived to file a report.
There’s a lot to dwell on in that report from the 101st Airborne — especially the disgusting rules of engagement (recently changed, inshallah). The old ROE essentially permitted American soldiers to shoot back, but rarely to initiate lethal action, which is no way to win a war. But the point here is that the nice Iranians clearly intended to kill some Americans and capture some others. That didn’t turn out well for them, but they got lucky with the Brits, who didn’t shoot back.
Notice the date of the report: It’s last September, before the surge, before the defection-or-snatch of several top Revolutionary Guards officials, before the latest sanctions vote at the U.N., before the arrest of the Quds-force thugs in Irbil. Taking hostages is just standard operating procedure for the Islamic Republic. Efforts to link the latest event to recent developments may be intellectually interesting, but I think analytically mistaken.
The interesting and important question is what we — yes, we — are going to do about it. You can be sure that the “professionals” in Foggy Bottom and Whitehall are giving learned memos to their leaders in which the word “deescalate” appears with some frequency, along with “diplomatic solution.” I doubt many of them will lose much sleep over their own considerable responsibility for the current unpleasantness, but let’s write a footnote that says: The Brits have labored mightily for many years to prevent the United States from pursuing vigorous action against Iran. The starched-shirt set at Whitehall and at MI6 have a predictable aristocratic disdain for “cowboy” foreign policy, confident in their own consummate abilities to “understand the mullahs” where Americans couldn’t possibly get it, and hence in the ultimate success of the diplomatic track. Now they will have to answer to the families of the hostages, whose accents are likely to be harsher than their own Oxbridge-speak.
It would be nice if someone in a position of power noted that the Iranians have committed an act of war on a NATO country, and that the other members of the alliance can be obliged to join in common action against the aggressor if the relevant terms of the treaty are invoked, as they should be. That should be the first move, showing the Iranians that the West is united and determined to act. It should be accompanied by the appearance of some vessels from what is left of Her Majesty’s Navy, buttressing our own warships and — shhhh! — the French carrier now in the area. If we have actionable intelligence from the recent wave of defectors/prisoners, we should step up the campaign against Iranian officials and agents in Iraq. And we should undertake the legitimate self-defense to which we are entitled, by moving against the terrorist training camps, and the improvised explosive device assembly lines and manufacturing sites inside the Islamic Republic.
Above all, we should, at long last, proclaim this regime unworthy of respect and call for its downfall.
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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.
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