DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Iranian naval vessels on Friday seized 15 British sailors and marines in disputed Persian Gulf waters off the coast of Iraq.It’s suspected the Iranians are playing tit-for-tat over the recent arrest of their boys in Northern Iraq, who are still being held. The difference here is manifest. Are these British personnel going to be held hostage, now?
The Britons were assigned to a task force that protects Iraqi oil terminals and maintains security in Iraqi waters under authority of the U.N. Security Council.
Britain's Defense Ministry said the Royal Navy personnel were "engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters," and had completed a ship inspection when they were accosted by the Iranian vessels.
The seizure of the British vessels, a pair of rigid inflatable boats known as RIBs, took place in long-disputed waters just outside of the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway that divides Iraq from Iran, Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl, of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, said. A 1975 treaty divided the waters down the middle between Iraq and Iran, but the area remains disputed.
"It's been in dispute for some time," Aandahl said. "We've been operating there for a couple of years and we know the lines very well. This was a compliant boarding, this happens routinely. What's out of the ordinary is the Iranian response."
Coupled with their strident nuclear ambitions, the Iranians seem hell bent on stepping up the heat.