Taking Hostages is the First Instinct of a Second-Class Tyrant
I started to post this bit as a comment to this piece at In From The Cold, then I decided my verbosity could end up stealing a lot of blog space that wasn't mine, so let me me now just give Spook 86 his 'hat tip' from this locale and using my own bandwidth.
To an outsider this misadventure would appear to be a pretty clever move by the Iranians (or some subset thereof from this point forward referred to at 'they' and derivitaves thereof) whereby Iranians hope they can pull off another fast one if they:
1. Don't provoke the 'Great Satan 'directlySpook 86 makes a good summary of the likely game they are playing, i.e. 'swapping' the Brits kidnapped from Iraqi waters for the pile of Iranian 'operators' we seem to have been collecting lately.
2. Can get the desired results by scooping up Coalition partner troops.
This act speaks volumes as to how the Iranians think and what they believe. If they thought for one minute that we (U.S and/or Great Britain) would take immediate and forceful punitive steps against them, they never would have done it in the first place. That they opted to take Britons instead of Americans, tells us they were betting on a more tepid response than if they had tried to do the same against the U.S. That they got the intial response they were looking for has to give them a sense of confidence in their operation to date (let us hope that it is as misplaced as I think it is).
So What is Iran's Plan B?
I don't think the Iranians really thought this through very well at all. The likelihood of a quick ending to the situation through a swap of kidnap victims for prisoners is, I believe, small...unless the Iranians who were captured in Iraq also happen to be in UK custody.
Spook 86 points out that this kind of move is a desperate one, and I don't think we will have to escalate this very much before the Iranians decide maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all. Iran, as poorly connected to the world as it is, is very much dependent upon Globalization and the rule sets that connected nations have to abide by. They are feeling the crunch economically already, and even the nit-noi sanctions imposed in the shadow of the kidnappings provide a little more torque to the 'limited' clamps now placed on Iran.
They also know they are vulnerable to energy sanctions from both ends of the issue, as while they are a major producer of crude oil, they are a major importer of gasoline as well. And all oil out or gasoline going in has to get by the Coalition.
I think the Iranians are expecting a little tit-for-tat for now. I'd like to think we would decide to break protocol and 'Triple-Dog Dare' Iran with a blockade until the Brits are returned unharmed. If that doesn't work, it would be trivial effort to anonymously (or not, if one prefers) 'shack' only a very small number of aimpoints some moonless night that would temporarily stop their existing refinery output as well. Re-apply as necessary.
We'll have to listen to the cries of inhumanity ala the Iraq Sanctions for only a little while. The Iranians will either come to their senses or not. But, I think we'll know fairly quickly if the Iranians have any desire to kick off Praying Mantis II .
Updated 03/23/07 in the AM: Added Link to 'rule sets'