Friday, April 18, 2008

Ministry of Defence (MOD) - Borders? Limits? Boundaries!

This post exposes another government department and how they operate. This example focuses on the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Iranian HMS Cornwall Fiasco, which took place 23 March through 5 April 2007.

Thanks to the Times Newspaper and their request under the Freedom of Information Act, we now know:

Fifteen British sailors and Marines were seized by Iran in internationally disputed waters and not in Iraq’s maritime territory as Parliament was told in 2007. The MoD insisted in PUBLIC that the Britons were 1.7 nautical miles on the Iraqi side of that boundary.

Ministry of Defence documents state:

  • The arrests took place in waters that are not internationally agreed as Iraqi;
  • The coalition unilaterally designated a dividing line between Iraqi and Iranian waters in the Gulf without telling Iran where it was;
  • The Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ coastal protection vessels were crossing this invisible line at a rate of three times a week;
  • It was the British who apparently raised their weapons first before the Iranian gunboats came alongside;
  • The cornered British, surrounded by heavily armed Iranians, made a hopeless last-minute radio plea for a helicopter to come back and provide air cover.
The Times Newspaper also requested information “concerning the location and position of the search party”. The request for information was from a technical device that communicated, the boarding party’s position to the mother ship, HMS Cornwall however last week the MoD responded by claiming no information would be provided as it would disclose operational tactics, routines and capability.

MoD report to the Chief of the Defence (PRIVATE) Staff under the heading: ‘Why the incident occurred’, dated April 13, 2007
Since the outset of the Iraq-Iran War there has been no formal ratified TTW [territorial waters] agreement in force between Iraq and Iran . . . In the absence of any formal agreement, the coalition tactical demarcation (the Op Line) is used as a notional TTW boundary. It is a US NAVCENT [US Naval Forces Central Command] construct based on an extension of the Algiers accord demarcation line beyond the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab [waterway] into the NAG [northern Arabian Gulf]. While it may be assumed that the Iranians must be aware of some form of operational boundary, the exact coordinates to the Op Line have not been published to Iran.

Des Browne, Defence (PUBLIC) Secretary, House of Commons, June 16, 2007
What he said
“There is no doubt that HMS Cornwall was operating in Iraqi waters and that the incident itself took place in Iraqi waters . . . In the early days the Iranians provided us with a set of coordinates, and asserted that was where the event took place, but when we told them the coordinates were in Iraqi waters they changed that set and found one in their own waters. I do not think that even they sustain the position that the incident took place anywhere other than in Iraqi waters” -

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As ever, the best part of these exposes are public attitudes/comments. Here are a few....

BRITISH CHARACTER. Has Mr Walker from Ladson USA no understanding of the steel like character of our British women? Other women from half the world, finding themselves in the situation of our Faye Turney, captured at gun point by the Irans and facing a possible firing squad at any moment, would have collapsed in hysteria. Not so our Faye, sitting erect, wearing a headscarf worn by many British women during Hitler's blitz while their homes were torn to pieces, their children killed, calmly smoked a cigarette! A British woman made of the calibre of Bodicia, of Grace Darling. Isolated, she alone of all the Admirals and Generals of the Iraq conflict, embarked on an exit strategy. Within fourteen days she had turned the incident around. The President of Iran ordered new suits to be made, and goody bags given as presents for the boats crews. Amazing. Could any women from any other Country single handed have prevented the situation from escalating into a third World War? In my book she deserves a medal. If only we had diplomats of yesteryear on hand with guidance from a strong Government to take advantage of the new situation and negotiate a peaceful resolve to the nuclear power station problem. Well done Faye. - Gut Liam, Hertford, Engtland

It was my position when this happened and is still my position: When the Iranians were in the process of taking British sailors and Marines captive, the British Navy and Air Force, with American help, if necessary, should have blown those Iranian gunboats to bits--along with any other Iranian forces that dared get mixed up in the situation.

Can the British public not understand that no nation that has any responsibilities on the international scene can allow its military to trodden on at will by a third-rate power? The Iranians have done this to Britain. It is an international humiliation, no matter what kind of face the politicians try and put on it. The Iranians have taken the measure of British political leadership and British resolve, and have found it wanting. The Iranians are dangerous, seeking hegemony in the Middle East, and are not now likely to be bound by anything the UK says or does. - Terry L. Walker, Ladson, SC / USA

Finally the truth is revealed. I wish people would just realize the government doesn't care about the truth. They only care that you believe the Iranians are evil just like they want you to. - Darius, Los Angeles, USA

Many thanks to President Ahmadinejad for delivering this important Wake Up Call to HMS Cornwall and the MOD but also for Iran's kind hospitality and generosity. This fiasco could have ended very differently. - Alison, Geneva, CH

What a load of nonsense. The British boat was seized by the IRGC "navy" because it was not properly supported by British or Coalition air and/or sea assets. Operating that close to Iranian waters, that boat should never have been sent anywhere at all without a proper plan for immediate air or sea coverage in case of an Iranian assault. - George Smith, San Antonio, Texas

All part of the American plan to try to create an incident to attack Iran. The Brits were being used as the bait. A few British soldiers in the interests of the US and Israel. Never mind. - Shaffiq Mahmood, Halifax, UK

This news item tells us that the capture took place in a disputed area. At the same time, let us not forget that the Iranians, when told that the coordinates they had originally provided, lay in Iraqi waters, supplied an alternative location. I wonder why. - Alice Cripps, Worthing, UK

I care. Because I'm shamed at the incompetence of the Royal Navy that allowed this group of children to be ambushed. I'm disgusted at the lies told to us in Parliament. And I'm concerned that the standing of our country was damaged by the incident. We have just seen two senior people leave BA because of the mess they made. Equally heads should roll at the Ministry of Defence. - Mike C, Chichester, England

What else has Britain lied about? - oxi, Chicago

So what's new? Anyone who has even a minor understanding of the region realises that a lot of these borders are disputed and these types of incidents are extremely likely to happen. The British Navy messed up seriously by leaving the vessel unsupported and the British government messed up by spinning an already embarassing story into a national humiliation. - Mike Pemberton, London, London

I commented last year that the Persian gulf water boundaries near the Iraqi soil remains disputed. I also stated that it was not up to the UK or USA to muscle in and to try to draw an artificial line and set the boundary. Unfortunately, it appears that such intent and by default confusion lead to the arrest of our sailors. This is total arrogance and for us to think that a questionable UN mandate to be present in the Persian Gulf gives us the right to predetermine disputed territorial boarders beggars belief. I also find our reference to the historic Persian Gulf as the Arab gulf very rude and insulting to the Iranians and we should show more respect to a nation that has referred to this waterways as the Persian gulf for the last 2500 years. Our behaviour and our wording is provocative and we should be honest enough to face this fact. Lower down the Persian gulf, is the Arabian Sea. No amount of Arab appeasement is going to change this historic fact and we should show more respect. - John, Cheltenham, UK

A gutless performance by all concerned, especially the Secretary of State and his Admirals but not the Iranians who win this one hands down..- Michael, Wichester, England

Des Browne lied to the public. On such a sensitive issue and during such a sensitive time with the Iranians, this is negligent. - Martin, London, UK

Who cares? The embarrassment is that the Iranian boat was not obliterated. - Nick, Rotherham, UK

The seizure was made by the Revolutionary Guard Corps' boats and NOT by the Iranian Navy. The IRGC is well known for its smuggling activities and firm control over criminal rackets in Iran and Southern Iraq. Since the Defence Ministry stated the reason the British boat was where it was due to smuggling activity, perhaps this has more bearing on the incident. Even if the boundary had been set between the Iranian Navy and Coalition Forces, the IRGC still acts independently. - John Bates, Melbourne, Florida

Once the greatest sea-power the world has ever seen now reduced, by their lying, incompetent leaders, to a nation of wimps. Incompetence is encouraged by lack of accountability, coverups and hidden behind phrases like it would disclose operational tactics, routines and capability. Oh pleeeeeeeeeease! - R Bingham, Lauzun, France

MP lies - Why the shock? - jj, Cambridgeshire, UK

Replace misled with lies. When will politicians learn to speak the common language? - steve tea, manchester, cheshire

The important issue is that the sailors are all healthy and were released soon after the incident. Indisputably Iran treated them with respect and showed the civility and friendliness that exists in the Iranian culture and tradition. Unlike what some want to believe, the region belongs to those who are located there. The world must begin to accept the new Middle East. That is not Bush's Middle East. Hopefully UK will be able to talk directly to the Iranian regime and stay away from the warmongers in the US government. Daryush, London, London

It seems that Britain has lost its backbone, certainly Mrs Thatcher would have had none of it! Britain is a laughing stock!! - Colin, Surrey, uk

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April 18, 2008 - Des Browne ‘misled MPs over seizure of British sailors in the Gulf’
April 17, 2008 - Report reveals Iran seized British sailors in disputed waters
April 17, 2008 - ‘We have cowboys . . . can we have the helicopter over ASAP?’

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On a different note, What does the MoD do for Recreation .... you need to be on the right wavelength!

A study was undertaken in 2001-2002 to investigate theories about capabilities to gather information remotely about what people may be seeing and to determine the potential value, if any, of such theories to Defence. The Ministry of Defence has released the findings of this study in response to a Freedom of Information request and we are pleased to now make it available to a wider audience via the MOD Freedom of Information Disclosure Log. Where indicated information has been withheld in accordance with Section 26 (Defence), Section 27 (International Relations), Section 40 (Personal Information), Section 41 (Information Provided In Confidence) and Section 43 (Commercial Interests) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

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