OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

Britain said on Tuesday it had proposed direct bilateral talks with Iran to resolve the standoff over Tehran’s seizure of 15 British military personnel. Meanwhile British Prime Minister Tony Blair had earlier said the next 48 hours would be crucial to how this crisis is resolved.  Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoudi insisted the UK still had to admit its personnel had crossed into Iran’s waters. The proposal for direct talks came after further UK contact with Tehran, including directly with security chief Ali Larijani. However, both countries continue to dispute whether the 15 crew were in Iran’s waters when seized on 23 March. The naval personnel have been held captive since being seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the northern Gulf last month. It is understood that one area under discussion between the two countries is how future disputes over the contested Shatt al-Arab waterway may be avoided.

US President George Bush has described the crew’s capture as “indefensible” and said he backed the UK’s efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully. The British response to the Iranian capture has been unusually restrained evidenced by the repeated references to diplomacy and peaceful means. The BBC in an analysis piece characterized the Iranian move as an act of desperation by an isolated regime, attributing it to what it calls a “siege mentality”. As evidence of the “siege mentality” the BBC alludes to recent remarks by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Iran would from now on feel justified in acting illegally and that Iran would use any means available to it to defend itself.

Offstumped examines if indeed Iran is acting out of desperation or if there was a larger design underlying the developments of March 23rd.

First it is important to recognize that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been barely present in the current crisis. From the Iranian side, the crisis has been managed by the country’s Supreme National Security Council, the highest body dealing with such matters. Various interpretations are being attributed to his apparent hibernation from the most obvious reason of ensuring the situation is not inflamed by his rhetoric to far deeper conspiracy theories.

Whatever be the reason for Ahmedenijad’s not hogging the limelight, it is becoming clear that Iran’s gamble in targeting the British in its shadow boxing with the United States maybe a winner.

Consider this – in a recent opinion poll by the Telegraph suggests widespread public ambivalence about this crisis. If diplomacy fails, more Britons — 48 percent to 44 percent — would oppose military action against Iran than would support it.

Then consider this – The European Union rejected Britain’s request to freeze $28 billion in export trade to Iran until the release of their 15 Royal British Navy personnel. France and the Netherlands in particular voiced concern that such type of action would halt all diplomacy and talks with Iran, and that dialogue is of utmost importance especially during this crisis.

Well what does this remind one of ?

The good old art of the salami from the long gone days of the cold war era.

Wikipedia defines Salami Tactics as

Salami tactics, also known as the salami-slice strategy, is a process of threats and alliances used to overcome opposition. With it, an aggressor can influence and eventually dominate a landscape, typically political, piece by piece. In most cases it includes the creation of several factions within the opposing political party and then dismantling that party from the inside, without causing the “sliced” sides to protest

The Iranians by design or accident have stumbled on a brilliant Salami move in their cold war with the Americans by targetting the British. What is brilliant about this move they have been able to strategically lockdown Tony Blair’s embattled British Government to a diplomatic corner while driving a wedge between it and British public opinion on the one hand and with the EU on the other hand.

It remains to be seen what dividends the Persian Salami will bring to the Islamic Regime in Iran but when viewed from the prism of developments in the Middle East over the last 18 months it portends ominously for a democratic, play by the rule book India.

In July 2006 Offstumped in its analysis of the Israel Lebanon Hezbollah conflict had cautioned against India taking a moralistic position on Israel’s response. Offstumped had then argued that legitimizing a Hezbollah type state sponsored low intensity guerilla warfare would set a dangerous precedent in favor of a state within a state and become an example to other insurgencies across the world.

 It is Offstumped’s view that the current Iranian move on British sailors and the Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon are two sides of the same coin. They offer a glimpse into how a state within a state can work the legitimacy of the host state to its advantage with strike and negotiate salami tactics  while pushing the envelope with its hit and run guerilla tactics which are not bounded by nuances of International Law or subtleties of International Diplomacy. If Hezbollah could use its leverage within Lebanon to wage war on Israel, the Islamic regime of Iran is looking to use its leverage to pursue a weapons program with highly questionable ends.

What does all of this mean to India ?

India has been at the receiving end of Pakistan’s Salami Tactics for a while now. Starting with the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar to Kargil Pakistan has been very effective at using the legitimacy of a Nation State as cover for a slew of tactics of dubious legality to lock down India with diplomacy while at the same time bleeding it. While Iran is not a direct threat to India the Islamic Regime has not been India’s most reliable ally either despite what some psuedo-secularists would have us believe. For the first time Iran’s Salami Tactics seem to be working to its advantage against the West. Any International precedents to Iran’s advantage that will likely be set during this crisis as Britain seeks a quick and painless resolution will likely make it to Pakistan’s dirty tricks copy book.

Offstumped Bottomline: India must be vigilant to how the Iran Britain hostage standoff resolves itself. Strategic implications of any western concessions to Iran in favor of a quick resolution must be examined and factored into future

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