In the current stand-off over the British sailors held in Tehran, both sides say the capture was made on their side of the international boundary. And both sides are flat out lying. The simple truth is that there is no agreed international boundary in the Gulf. See the analysis by Craig Murray, former head of the UK Foreign Office's Maritime Section, Blair Faked Map. short version, there is no way either the Brits or the Iranians can state with certainty which side of a line that doesn't exist that boat was on. Another "dodgy dossier" for Mr. Blair?
Which begs a few questions; if this area of water is disputed, why is the Royal Navy going there at all? If they wanted to avoid trouble with the situation so tense, you think they'd allow a de-facto neutral zone. (Leaving aside the bigger question, why are they in the Gulf at all?) On the other hand, why are the Iranians pushing their luck?
Part of the answer may be that the sailors were seized by radical elements of the Revolutionary Guard. The western media likes to portray Iran as a monolith headed by a dictatorial Ahmadinejad. Nothing could be further from the truth, the government there has all kinds of internal power blocs and factions and Ahmadinejad really has very little power. If the sailors had been confronted by Iranian regular navy or army the situation might have been resolved on the spot.
But there may be something else, a reason why more pragmatic elements of the Iranian leadership seem willing to push the issue. There is a piece in the Indepedent that has got a lot of attention; it reports that the Iranians are responding tit-for-tat after the Americans raided their diplomatic liason office in Arbil.
This nasty little incident greatly antagonized the Iranians, and for good reason. Not only is this kind of thing totally in breach of diplomatic conventions and international law, it is also puts the lie to the claim that the Iraqi authorities have any say about what goes on in their own country. These officials were there on the Iraqi's invitation. And the Americans are still holding five low level Iranians seized in the raid. (The big fish got away.)
Early on the morning of 11 January, helicopter-born US forces launched a surprise raid on a long-established Iranian liaison office in the city of Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. They captured five relatively junior Iranian officials whom the US accuses of being intelligence agents and still holds.
In reality the US attack had a far more ambitious objective, The Independent has learned. The aim of the raid, launched without informing the Kurdish authorities, was to seize two men at the very heart of the Iranian security establishment....The two men were in Kurdistan on an official visit during which they met the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, and later saw Massoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), at his mountain headquarters overlooking Arbil.
Some of the commentary from the Jingos would almost be amusing if it weren't so pathetic; check out this utterly predictable screed from the Yorkshire Post, Let's Give Iran a Bloody Nose. Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) has done a good job of puncturing this sort of blather; Call That Humiliation?
Let's hope the children are able to put away their toys and play nicely from now on.