Robert Fisk explains the new Iran hostage crisis
The war of humiliation
By Robert Fisk/The Independent UK
Our Marines are hostages. Two more were shown on Iranian TV. Petrol bombs burst behind the walls of the British embassy in Tehran. But it's definitely not the war on terror. It's the war of humiliation. The humiliation of Britain, the humiliation of Tony Blair, of the British military, of George Bush and the whole Iraqi shooting match. And the master of humiliation - even if Tony Blair doesn't realise it - is Iran, a nation which feels itself forever humiliated by the West.
Oh how pleased the Iranians must have been to hear Messers Blair and Bush shout for the "immediate" release of the luckless 15 - this Blair-Bush insistence has assuredly locked them up for weeks - because it is a demand that can be so easily ignored. And will be.
"Inexcusable behaviour," roared Bush on Saturday - and the Iranians loved it. The Iranian Minister meanwhile waited for a change in Britain's "behaviour".
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust-denying President from hell, calls Blair "arrogant and selfish" - and so say all of us, by the way - after refusing to play to the crowd at the United Nations. They'll release "serviceperson" Faye Turney. Then they won't release her.
Veiled Faye with her cigarette and her backcloth of cheaply flowered curtains, producing those preposterous letters of cloying friendship towards the "Iranian people" while abjectly apologising for the British snoop into Iranian waters - written, I strongly suspect, by the lads from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance - is the star of the Iranian show.
Back in 1980, when Tehran staged its much more ambitious takeover of the US embassy, the star was a blubbering marine - a certain Sergeant Ladell Maples - who was induced to express his appreciation for Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution just before America's prime-time television news.
The Iranians, you see, understand the West. And they understand it much better than we understand - or bother to understand - Iran.
We have forgotten the years of Allied occupation in the Second World War, the deposition of the pro-German Shah and then, humiliation of humiliations, the overthrow of the democratic Prime Minister, Mohamed Mossadeq, engineered by the CIA's Allen Dulles and an eccentric British scholar of Greek, an ex-Special Operations Executive operative - "Monty" Woodhouse by name - with a few guns and a pile of dollars. And the Iranians remember well, how back came the Shah of Iran, our "policeman" in the Gulf, the King of Kings, Light of the Aryans, descendant of Cyrus the Great, to stretch out the young Iranian men and women of the resistance on the toasting racks of their Savak torturers.
Nor have the Iranians any real intention of putting Faye and her chums in front of any court. They'd far rather have the Brits chomping through their "nan" bread on Sky TV, courtesy, of course, of Tehran's Arabic "Al-Alam" channel. And did you notice that little "exclusive" label in the top left-hand corner of the screen when Rifleman Nathan Summers decided to go public?
How the Iranians love mimicking their oppressors. When the gold braid of the Ministry of Defence produce a complexity of maps to prove our boys were in Iraqi waters, the Iranians produce a humble coastguard with a Minotaur map to show that they were in the Iranian briney.
The Union Jack still flies on their rubber boat - but the Iranian banner floats above it. No one has yet explained, I notice, why our boys and girls in blue carry rifles on their sailing adventures if their duty is to hand them over when attacked. Are we actually trying to supply the Revolutionary Guards with more weapons?
But behind all this lie some dark questions - with, I fear, some still unknown but dark answers. The Iranian security services are convinced that the British security services are trying to provoke the Arabs of Iran's Khuzestan province to rise up against the Islamic Republic. Bombs have exploded there, one of them killing a truck-load of Revolutionary Guards, and Tehran blamed MI5. Outrageous, they said. Inexcusable.
The Brits made no comment, even when the Iranians hanged a man accused of the killings from a crane; he had, they said, been working for London.
Are the SAS in south-western Iran, just as the British claim the Iranians are in south-eastern Iraq, harassing the boys in Basra with new-fangled bombs? Will the Americans release the five Iranians issuing visas to Kurds in Arbil whom they locked up a couple of months ago. No, says Bush. Well, we shall see.
There is a lot we do not know - or care to know - about all this. In the meantime, however, it will be left to Blair, Bush and the merchants of the SKY-BBC-CNN-FOX-CBS-NBC-ABC axis of shlock-and-awe to play the Iranian game. Will they put Faye on trial? Will our boys be threatened with execution? Answer: no, but be sure we'll soon be told by the Iranians that they are all spies. A lie, needless to say. But Blair will fulminate and Bush will roar and the Iranians will sit back and enjoy every second of it.
The Iranians died in their tens of thousands to destroy Saddam's legions. And now they watch us wringing our hands over 15 lost souls. This is a big-time movie, the cinemascope of political humiliation. And the Iranians not only know how to stage the drama. They've even written Blair's script.
And he obligingly reads it to cue.