A Jihadi Circus in Tehran and the 15 sailors
By Walid Phares
Since day one of the planned operation to snatch British sailors from Iraqi (or international waters), the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) “Kitchen” in Tehran, had already drawn multiple scenarios for the following weeks and potentially months to come. Indeed the regime, reacting to significant rising pressures from sectors of its own population and from the US-UK led coalition, engineered an “escalating” incident.
The main scenario, as projected inside the minds of the Iranian “Jihadi-cooks,” is based on one request from the Khamenei-Ahmadinijad regime: wasting time, as much time as possible. To the Khomeinist Mullahs and their men in power, it is crucial to win the race: On the one hand, a rising pressure coming from the inside of the country and inspired by the political changes in the region. On the other hand a pressure by the Iranian led “axis” in the region, directed at the US and the UK initiatives in Iraq and in the neighborhood. In short, Tehran’s regime wants to crumble its enemies before it is crumbled by its own opposition. From there on, all incidents, scenarios, plans, and sub plans are possible.
“Catching” a British Navy unit off the shores of Iraq -regardless of the GPS positioning of the unit- is the beginning of the play. In ten days, Tehran has already scored one success: The UN is discussing what to do about the 15 British sailors instead of how to shut down the 15 nuclear centers in Iran. The debate has been deflected and is now in the hands of the “Iranian architects.” This is followed by the dramatization of the “incident.” First the regime begins showing the “captives” and swings media-reporting between “where were they patrolling” and “will they be tried.” Another psychological victory is scored: The international press follows the Iranian maestro’s gesticulations. As usual with the Western mainstream media, the story’s details become the devil, and their readers are denied the big picture. Here is how the Mullah “psych-war” develops and could evolve in different directions:
Framing the incident
In the aftermath of media rush to describe the details of the “crime’s location,” it is simply forgotten that Iran’s behavior is what really count. Had the dingy -or a bigger ship- entered Kuwaiti waters by error, the principality navy would have alerted the British unit as to its current location and asked them if they needed help to correct their sailing.
Saudi, Qatari and other Emirates vessels would have offered water to the UK patrol, had they requested. In worse conditions, a regime which is bragging about the “dialogue of civilizations,” that is the Ahmedinijad elite, should have behaved better. Instead of offering water to the sailors patrolling under UN mandate, the Mullah forces charged as if they were in full Jihad mode. Had the Khomeinist Navy been “international” in its behavior, its men should have gotten close to the British sailors, “informed them” that they were in Iranian waters (the legality of the issue to be resolved by Governments not by a military takeover of the rapid boat) and “asked” them to leave the area immediately.
That would have been the case, had an Iranian warship been spotted within Saudi or Omani waters. But the “Pasdaran” elite were on a path of war, from the moment it ordered its vessels to surround the British personnel and abduct them without warning.
Ironically, the spokespersons of the Iranian regime are framing the incident as a British act of war. Psychologically, this is very revealing: it shows that the Jihadi Mullahs have decided to frame the incident as an “act of war” to begin with, and then open the field for negotiations, giving London one only choice: to apologize and hasten the pull out from the area. Isn’t it a Machiavellian chess maneuver: Moving the game from UN sanctions on Iran to UN mediation between Tehran and London to free the sailors.
Against all stipulations of international law, the Khomeinist regime used these “prisoners of war” in propaganda operations: Parading the 14 detainee on national and international TV as if they have “already committed a crime.” Then singling out the female prisoner and abusing her individual human rights: First, British society, law and military doesn’t recognize gender Apartheid. It is a Khomeinist breach of international human rights to separate the British female sailor from her companions for the purpose of propaganda, to force her to wear a black headscarf (a sign of ideological submission) and other outfits not appropriate with her status of free British woman.
It is against her private rights to show her smoking on world TV. And above all it is illegal to show the abducted service persons in any other opportunity than to present the evidence that they are alive and well. Any and all other “cinema” manufactured by the Ahmedinijad regime not only is against international law, but can be addressed in courts, both national and international.
The Jihadi letters
Stage three is the classical fascist “extraction” of confessions. While the Iranian regime has been very astute lately in external propaganda, thanks to the technical advice provided by the hired PR “expertise” in the West, the airing-of-letters drama seems to be a resurgence of the old methods, instead of the sophisticated suggestions the international “advisors” would put forward. Forcing the detained servicewoman to send a letter to her parents asking for the British withdrawal from Iraq is obsolete.
Videotaping the other male sailors “apologizing for the incursion” looks more like the old Nazi and Communist propaganda rather than anything else. However what is interesting is that Tehran is giving its own official TV channel in Arabic al Aalam, the exclusivity of the initial broadcast. This means the regime is eager to play this “Jihadi” propaganda in the Arab world and score mileage with it. More interesting is the fact that al Aalam TV, which is airing material in breach of international law, has offices in London and Washington DC.
The old Students-show
As in the 1980’s US embassy hostage crisis, the lead is given by the regime to “students.” In the West, the image of students is reminiscent of the 1968 college uprising in France and the US, thus touches a domestic cord. If students are upset with the “colonial powers” explained Western academics at the time, then it is the future generations of these countries that we need to take into consideration.
However, liberal democracies elites have hard time understanding that fascist type propaganda uses all what is dear and sensitive to their enemy camp. The “students” of the Iranian revolution in the 1980s ended up becoming members in the oppressive Pasdaran corps, a Khomeinist version of the 1940s SS. Those students who seized the US embassy in Tehran were the same ones who crushed the bones of freedom-seeking students in the 1990s Iran. These are the regime’s “students.” They never graduate, they stay at the service of the Mullahs and they only appear when the military trucks pick them up from the militia’s barracks.
After falling in a two decades long sleep, here are the “students” again rushing to “protest” at the British embassy? The view is tragicomic: Chanting against Zionism, imperialism and infidels, the stone throwers burn large signs with red crosses on them, and a word in Farsi citing England. More surreal are the so-called Police cordons which are there to “enforce security.” The students are Pasdaran in disguise and the security forces are under Pasdaran control: the rest is a Khomeinist street play.
Other “shows” soon?
Will the regime restrict itself to this menu or will it produce others “shows?” According to connoisseurs in Khomeinist political culture, hostage crisis are designed to last long, as long as needed to reach the goals. The 15 sailor’s episode was structured by the Tehran kitchen to obtain a variety of political revenues: propaganda victory, exchange of prisoners against Iranian detainees in UK and US custody, a “solution” to the defectors crisis, waiting out the departure of the Blair Government and dealing with the following cabinet, etc.
The Mullahs strategists have a wide array of needs to satisfy. It will be up to them to decide when the crisis would end. But beware of more “shows” as well: For example the students’ action in front of the embassy may lead to an additional situation; dispersing the 15 British sailors in different locations is also another scenario. Students in another capital, Beirut for example, could also be instructed to “protest.” Actions inside Iraq or even in the West are to be expected, if the Ahmedinijad’s regime decides to do so. It is at their full discretion, or so they think.
Bad cop good cop drama
What is also to expect is the circulation in the media of stories about an “internal struggle” between the good guys and the bad guys in Tehran. Media reports are already talking about two poles inside the military security apparatus, giving some hope to the Western camp calling for calm. In an article titled “Power struggle in Iran over hostages, the Sunday Times of London on April 1, writes that “Major-General Yahya Rahim Safavi is said to have told the country’s Supreme National Security Council on Friday that the situation was “getting out of control” and urged its members to consider the immediate release of the prisoners to defuse tension in the Gulf.”
And the Times adds “However, Safavi’s intervention was reportedly denounced by another senior general at a meeting of high-ranking commanders yesterday. Yadollah Javani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ political bureau, was said to have accused him of weakness and “liberal tendencies”: How interesting to see that this “internal information” was obtained only now by Western (and some Arab) media from “well informed sources.”
Until this incident, few in the Western press have uttered the names of these Iranian generals. But now, they have become the good Cop and the bad Cop of Tehran. And on top of it, it works, because the logical western reaction would be then to wait for the “good guy” to prevail. That is precisely what the astute propaganda machine out of Tehran wants: time.
Then comes the “mediations”
As in most similar situations, candidates for “mediation” will emerge fast from the realm of world politics and opportunities. Since the British Government can’t negotiate “properly” would argue the self-suggested mediators, we will.
High profile former hostages such as Terry Waite are expected to offer their services, but as long as “Iran, the hostage taker, is understood and respected.” But beyond the classical candidates for this job, including former President Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson, expect the possible other sub-scenarios, all encouraged by Tehran. Banking on domestic political unrest in the UK, the Mullah strategists wouldn’t mind to see British politicians, usually anti War and sympathetic to political Jihadism, begin the shuttle negotiations between Tehran and London. Imagine what can an MP George Galloway type, achieve out of this new Iranian business: media devastation against the British Government, the US, and by ripple effect against the rising democracy movement inside Iran. It would be hours of sheer anti-Western propaganda by English speaking politicians on both international and Arab networks.
But the Tehran propagandists could request a “British Muslim” mediation to deal with the issue, putting even more pressure on the UK. Or possibly ask the League of Muslim states to begin a go-between initiative with a 5 member team. Who knows, the circus could involve Lebanese politicians too. How about Hezbollah entering the fray and offering to “help,” confusing further the situation? Even better, Iran would accept an offer by the Christian Lebanese General, Michel Aoun, now an ally of Hezbollah, to visit the detainee and play the mail man. Everything is possible; everything is open, as long as Tehran obtains the precious commodity: Time.
The Shatt al Arab incident may not be the last one. Now that Ahmedinijad’s “War-kitchen” has discovered the recipe, it may also serve more dishes of the sort, in other spots, by other actors and in different timing. Remember how Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbollah, Iran’s strategic ally in Lebanon, dragged Israel into a month long war as a result of another similar snatch of soldiers in July 2006.
In this open field, results determine future actions. If the Iranian regime would conclude that British, US and international reactions haven’t really generated a strategic response, they will most likely unleash a second strike and a third strike after that. That is the law of conflicts. And the Khomeinists having discovered the weak link will widen their war of images and words, till they crumble the resolve of their foes; unless the latter prove them wrong.
Professor Walid Phares is the author of the recently released book, The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracies. He is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy. Phares@walidphares.com
April 2, 2007 07:09 AM Print
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