Wednesday, March 28, 2007

No Self-Defence

EU Referendum was essential reading during last summer's Israel-Lebanon conflict and now that Iran has kidnapped 15 British sailors and Marines, it's time to head back over there-

Our sailors and marines - why did they not defend themselves? They were not allowed to ... their rules of engagement did not permit it.

This was raised in Defence Questions today by Ann Winterton MP. She put to the defence minister that "the current rules of engagement that allow no conflict in Iraqi waters with Iranian forces" and thus suggested that "this led directly to 15 of our service personnel being abducted by the Iranians".

Defence minister Adam Ingram was evasive, telling MPs not to speculate. "Let us stand back and understand the sensitivity of the situation," he pleaded. "There is too much speculation about what happened and what did not happen."

But Winterton was not speculating. Directly from extremely angry servicemen recently back from Iraq, she had received information that boarding parties were under rigid instructions that left no room for discretion. Even though faced with Iranian Revolutionary Guards, every one of the Party knew that to fire a weapon (even a warning shot) would have ensured their personal Court Martial.

There are also questions about the location of the HMS Cornwall where the boarding party was based- how is it that the Iranians were able to enter Iraqi waters without its knowledge? And why did it not intervene when the Iranian boats- which apparently greatly outnumbered the British boarding party- began to kidnap those sailors and Marines?

If the ROE are so strict, presumably to keep the peace and not cause an international incident (like the one we have now), then Blair is obliged to do more than simply bluster at Iran; those military personnel were prohibited from defending themselves from a hostile force. The Marines and sailors must be returned unharmed immediately. Anything else is an act of war.

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