By Shahzad Masood Roomi

Security situation all over the world now a days is nothing short of chaotic and patience on all matters related to national security often fizzles out very quickly particularly when it involves states like Iran and the US. Both these nations have a historic luggage of bitter bilateral relations on many issues. Though the situation improved considerably after Iran reached an agreement with 5+1 nations on its nuclear program but it is not easy to react to any aggressive posturing with patience with a history of bitterness. And this is exactly what transpired when Iran seized two US Navy Riverine boats and apprehended 10 US sailors on board.
It was nearly nightfall Tuesday and the two camouflaged U.S. Navy speedboats were off course in the Persian Gulf, possibly taking a shortcut through Iranian waters and apparently running out of gas on their more than 300-mile journey back to base.
Iran took a legal action by arresting US sailors who were in Iranian waters without permission and in camouflaged speed boats. Had the sailors of any other country entered in US territorial waters near its shores, this is exactly how US would have reacted.
Iranian media said that the boats were more than a mile inside Iran’s internationally recognized 12-mile limit.
But the matters were complicated when, according to US papers, USN officials said that all radio and other communication links with the boats were lost during an tense encounter. Question remains when these boats were in contact with the 5th fleet, why they were not warned that they were entering into Iranian waters? This question along with the fact the boats were camouflaged makes the entire episode more chilling. It seems that US boats were in fact on some kind of stealth mission.
The US Navy, later on, was able to track the missing boats as they were apparently towed to a military pier on Iran’s Farsi Island — where the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps happens to operate a base.
But US reaction, after the locating of boats, was full of aggressive posturing which complicated the situation further. A U.S. aircraft carrier task force, led by the Harry S. Truman, on patrol in the gulf, quickly launched, without giving diplomacy a chance, a batch of search helicopters into Iranian airspace. That served to further alarm Tehran, even as U.S. officials began considering a possible rescue operation.
It was only afterwards when phones of top State Department and Pentagon officials, backed by the White House, and their Iranian counterparts began to ring frantically as both sides sought to prevent an apparent accident from escalating into a hostage standoff and a potential armed confrontation.
The eventual release of the Americans — they had been fed and given blankets and were allowed to sail back to a waiting U.S. cruiser with all their equipment — defused the budding crisis. Relieved U.S. officials said the high-level contacts were a side benefit of the intense negotiations that produced the landmark nuclear deal with Tehran last summer.
As the Pentagon has begun investigation about the causes of lost communications, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has termed the incident as “navigational mistake”.
According to USN officials, the sailors remained unharmed and are being debriefed at a U.S. base in Qatar. It may take several days to complete the debriefings and determine what happened.
Clearly, the incident has embarrassed the Pentagon and put the White House on the defensive.
Good thing, though, is that the world avoided any major security incident which was a clear possibility considering the aforementioned confusion and early miscommunication about the incident by the US Navy. Any small tactical miscalculation could have led to a regional catastrophe.
Still the US media is not finding itself ready to move on after this incident. A new debate about possible Iranian violation of international law, by telecasting videos of arrest of US sailors, is being done within the American media.
On the other hand, Obama administration does not want anything bad happening with Iran to secure the nuclear deal with Tehran which democrats are going to use in election campaign as a success story. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the video did not violate the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war, because the U.S. is not at war with Iran. But he made it clear that video is not welcomed by the Americans.
“The video on the face of it is — it’s difficult to watch, and there’s no question about that,” he told reporters. “And nobody likes to see our sailors in that position. I can’t speak for the motivations for why they did it, why they put it out there, if they did it for propaganda purposes, I would — we would certainly join in those that are expressing concerns about that. I mean, that’s — you know, that’s less than helpful.”
Clearly this statement proves that Kirby was barred from saying what he otherwise would have said. For now, Obama administration cannot afford to play a strong hand with Tehran and the Iranians are well aware of this US predicament.
Few elements within US political circles are not happy with the way things unfolded after US sailors were arrested particularly the way Iranian media televised their arrest.
Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also reiterated essentially the same when he said that the Obama administration wasn’t willing to hold Iran accountable because it is too invested in the nuclear deal.
“The administration is pretending as if nothing out of the ordinary has occurred,” he said in a statement. It “places our Navy and Coast Guard vessels and the men and women who sail them at increased risk in the future.”
Notwithstanding the remarks of Senator John McCain, the incident once again has highlighted the vulnerability of regional peace due to prevailing chaotic regional geopolitics. US-Iran rivalry is not a bilateral issue any more but US partnership with Saudi Arabia acts like a catalyst perpetuating Iranian enmity with the US. Iran and Saudi Arabia bilateral relations are broken right now and both are creating a dangerous polarization within the Muslim world beyond Arab lands. The world has avoided a certain war like incident in Persian Gulf but unfortunate fact remains that this was not the first or the last of still stand-off involving Iran. Regional geopolitical landscape is chaotic and is becoming polarized and ominous!

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