'Capture of UK sailors response to Iranian officers’ arrest'
Iranian military source quoted by al-Sharq al-Awsat as saying that decision to capture 15 British sailors in Persian Gulf was reached after diplomatic efforts to release ‘Al-Quds Force’ officers seized by American troops in Iraq failed; Fars news agency reports soldiers transferred to Tehran to explain their ‘aggressive action’
The decision to capture British sailors in the Persian Gulf was reached by the Iranian General Staff six days ago in response to the arrest of Iranian officers by US forces in Iraq, an Iranian military official said.
On Saturday the UK-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted the Iranian military source as saying that a plan to capture American or British coalition troops was formulated by the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Security Council.
The decision was reached after a report submitted to Iran’s ground forces commander warned that information on the activities of the Revolutionary Guards and the “Al-Quds Force” in Iraq was being leaked to British and American intelligence agencies following the arrest of senior “Al-Quds Force” officers by US troops in northern Iraq.
The kidnapping of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry envoy in Baghdad and the disappearance of Iranian Colonel Amir Muhammad Shirazi in Turkey (according to Iranian estimations Shirazi was kidnapped by Americans) , also played a part in the decision to kidnap the British soldiers.
Senior Revolutionary Guards officials suggested kidnapping US and British soldiers with the aim of eventually exchanging them in return for the captured Iranian officers. According to the military source, the Iranian General Staff initially asked to exhaust all the available diplomatic channels, adding that Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari promised his Iranian counterpart that the officers would be released by the Iranian New Year, which was marked three days ago.
'There is now what looks like a hostage crisis'
However, in light of the failed diplomatic efforts, Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces were ordered to carry out the initial plan and seize one of the British ships combating arms smuggling in the Persian Gulf.
Meanwhile, the Fars news agency reported that the British navy personnel have been transferred to Tehran to explain their "aggressive action.”
Fars said the British navy personnel, who it said included some women, were transferred to the Iranian capital around noon local time on Saturday.
British newspapers expressed concern that Iran would use the sailors as a bargaining chip.
"There were growing fears that the 15 British sailors and Royal Marines were victims of a deliberate ambush by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, perhaps seeking to use the captives as hostages in the increasingly tense stand-off between the West and Iran over its nuclear program," said The Times.
"There is now what looks like a hostage crisis," wrote The Guardian.
"These anti-smuggling patrols are relatively uncontentious, but they represent an opportunity for Iran to grasp.
"The source of a dispute matters less than the leverage Tehran thinks it can extract from it."
News agencies contributed to the report