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Hostage crisis highlights roles in geopolitics

Bob Tippee

While it's difficult to predict how the new Iranian hostage crisis will end, responses by other countries say much about modern geopolitics.

The eternal problem with the Iranian government is, of course, that it is difficult to predict. Internal conflicts explain why.

The president is a ranting apocalypticist who serves as the puppet of ruling mullahs but who was elected, albeit in questionable voting, by people who despise the mullahs.

So was the Mar. 23 abduction of 12 British sailors and marines a planned act of the theocracy, the work of rogue members of the mullahs' Revolutionary Guards, or the result of some internal clash that got out of control? If planned, was it an attempt to retaliate for the UK's anticipated support for toughened sanctions against nuclear-ambitious Iran in the United Nations? Was it indirect retaliation for the US capture of Iranian provocateurs in Iraq? Or did the theocracy need an external crisis to quell seething domestic political pressure?

The rogue-mercenary theory weakened after Tehran first insisted that the Brits had boated into Iranian territory then ludicrously changed the incident's alleged location when the UK government showed the original cite to have been well within Iraqi waters. At this writing, the Iranian leadership seemed determined to raise tension.

Iranian expansionism has drawn an obviously worried Saudi Arabia out of its normal reticence. At an Arab League meeting Mar. 28 in Riyadh, Saudi King Abdullah scolded colleagues for crises in Lebanon, Iraq, and Sudan.

"The real blame should be directed at us, the leaders of the Arab nation," he said, blaming "our constant disagreements and rejection of unity." The purpose of the meeting was to reconsider a 2002 Saudi proposal—itself an uncharacteristically bold move—for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In Europe, the UK seems expected to handle the crisis on its own. The European Union has acted more like the Saudi Arabia of old—quiet and, from all outward appearances, unresponsive—than the center of solidarity it celebrated in its 50th anniversary as 15 Europeans became victims of international kidnapping.

Meanwhile, the US increased naval activity in the Persian Gulf.

(Online Mar. 30, 2007; author's e-mail:

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