Without a Fight

Iran attacked—and Britain promptly surrendered. What happens when a blatant act of war goes unpunished?
From the June 2007 Trumpet Print Edition

You probably heard about Iran capturing 15 British seamen this past March and then releasing them 13 days later. But your understanding of that event would vary wildly depending on where you got your information.

What really happened? And what lessons can we draw from it?

Ask an Iranian citizen, and he would likely tell you that the Brits trespassed into Iranian waters—probably on a spying mission—and deserved to be captured. He would explain that his president’s decision to release them was a big-hearted goodwill gesture to a chastened British people.

Talk to a member of the mainstream Western press or anti-war public, and you will likely hear that the incident was a textbook example of how to resolve a tense international situation—even with the supposedly radical Islamic Republic of Iran—through peaceful means. He would view it as repudiation of America’s confrontational approach with Iran and of any consideration of the need to resort to violence.

Both of these perspectives ignore key facts. Based on erroneous assumptions and incomplete information, they produce faulty, even dangerous conclusions.

What happened during those 13 days is far more significant than you may realize. It provides an illustration—as clear and stark as any single event in this generation—of two startling trends that should concern every reader. Both trends are prophesied in the Bible, and both are destined to escalate—so much so, in fact, that they will ignite world war. We must grasp the seriousness of this moment.

An Act of War

Widely overlooked is the clear evidence that Iran, with authorization from the highest levels of government, planned this attack in advance.

On March 23, the Brits—on orders from the United Nations—had just finished a routine inspection of a merchant ship within a mile or so of Iranian waters. (Sensitive territory, to be sure, but even Iran, when it publicly announced the gps coordinates of the incident, said the British were in Iraqi waters; it then quickly issued a second set of coordinates placing the event in Iranian waters, seeking to saddle the Brits with the blame.) Working out of two inflatables, 15 sailors and marines were at least 10 miles from their home ship, the hms Cornwall, and had no air cover. In other words, they were an easy target.

Captain Chris Air of the Royal Marines later described how two boats from the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution—Iran’s national security force—approached, hemmed them in and then rammed them. The Iranian crews “trained their heavy machine guns, rpgs and weapons on us,” he said. The International Herald Tribune reported, “[H]e added that the Iranian crews were aggressive and seemed unstable. Another six boats quickly closed in. Captain Air said he could not calm the Iranians down, and judged that if his crew tried to resist they would both lose the fight and cause a major international incident” (April 6). Air explained, “They had come with a clear purpose, and they were never going to leave without us.”

Such behavior is not spontaneous, and from the Revolutionary Guard it does not happen without orders from the top.

The timing of the attack also reflected its premeditated nature: It occurred the day before the UN Security Council voted to deepen sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, thus unmistakably signaling Iran’s defiance over this international pressure. In fact, just two days before the kidnapping, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that if Western countries “treat us with threats and enforcement of coercion and violence, undoubtedly they must know that the Iranian nation and authorities will use all their capacities to strike enemies that attack.”

Bringing further suspicion upon Iran is the fact that it occurred so soon after the disappearance of a former Revolutionary Guard commander in Turkey, and the capture of five Iranians, believed to be Revolutionary Guard members, in an American raid in northern Iraq. The capture of these Iranian militants added proof to the already mountainous evidence that Iran is directly fueling the Iraqi insurgency. Nevertheless, the Revolutionary Guard’s weekly newspaper lashed out against their detention and said that the Guard has “the ability to capture a bunch of blue-eyed, blond-haired officers and feed them to our fighting cocks” (emphasis mine).

Kidnapping military personnel in neutral territory is no accident—it is a calculated, strategic move. And more than that: Under international law, it is an act of war.

Britain’s Soft Response

“Some commentators have languidly observed that in another age this would have been regarded as an act of war,” Melanie Phillips wrote in the Daily Mail. “What on Earth are they talking about? It is an act of war. … What clearly does belong to another age is [Britain’s] ability to understand the proper way to respond to an act of war” (March 28).

When confronted by hostile Iranians with guns, the British surrendered immediately. They later said they had no choice. “I believe we made the right decision,” Captain Air said. They certainly made the decision that possibly saved their own lives, whether or not that served the larger cause. This and their subsequent behavior demonstrated that personal survival—not the dignity of their offices or the interests of the nation—was uppermost in their minds.

One senior official defended their actions by explaining that they were merely following instructions—and those instructions “were not to start a war with Iran.” Reports show that the British Ministry of Defense, contacted during the incident, ordered the Cornwall not to fire on the Iranians.

British politicians also applied the gentlest of touches, taking pains to avoid anything that would appear confrontational. They hoped against hope that Iran would end the matter quickly so they could pretend it never happened. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett appeared on Arab television to express “regret” over the affair. Commodore Nick Lambert, commander of the Cornwall, said he hoped it was just a “simple mistake” on Iran’s part.

Meanwhile, in Tehran, the Iranians stripped and blindfolded the hostages and kept them in small stone cells. Once, the Brits were lined up blindfolded and facing a wall, and their captors audibly cocked guns behind their backs; when one sailor vomited, the others thought his throat was being slit. For much of the time, they were isolated and each privately interrogated. Sailor Faye Turney—the lone woman of the 15—was stripped to her undergarments, imprisoned in a tiny, freezing cell, and told that all the men had already been released. “For four days, she thought she was the only one there,” one of the hostages later explained.

It was in these conditions that the Iranians extracted sham apologies from the seamen. Confessing to having been in Iranian waters would mean freedom, the Brits were told; failure to confess would mean seven years of prison. The seamen opted to give in and provide the false confessions.

Meanwhile at home, London turned for help to the United Nations—the organization whose errand the hostages had been carrying out at the time of their capture. It tried to get the UN to issue a statement declaring how it “deplored” Iran taking British hostages. After deliberating, the UN decided it couldn’t endorse such a strong reaction; it decided to officially express “grave concern” over the incident. That is as worked up as the UN allowed itself to get about flagrant piracy on the high seas against a sovereign nation.

Exactly what happened diplomatically at that point is unclear, though London and Tehran were definitely talking. One British senior government source said, “[I]f there is anything to come out of this crisis, it is that we have opened new lines of communications with the Iranians.” Some reports detailed evidence of America also being involved. British Prime Minister Tony Blair flatly denied there being any deal or negotiation, to the doubt of many analysts.

Whatever occurred, after 13 days suddenly the Iranian president freed the Brits. Their release is “an Easter gift to the British people,” he said, boasting of the “Islamic hospitality” they had received. Before shipping them home with gift baskets, Iran staged a photo op where—in what a former British chief of defense staff called “fawning, unmilitary behavior”—elated British sailors and marines shook hands with a smiling President Ahmadinejad and thanked him for their freedom.

A Victory for Diplomacy?

“This was a victory for patient and determined diplomacy,” wrote Foreign Secretary Beckett of the crew’s return. “Hope for More Iran Compromises” read a headline in the Associated Press. “The announced release of the British captives shows that the Islamic Republic is still willing to mitigate its ideology with pragmatism,” crooned the International Herald Tribune.

In actuality, the whole shabby affair proved precisely the opposite. This episode reaffirmed the truth—if it needed reaffirming—that taking the diplomatic tack with Iran is doomed to fail. Discussions have done nothing to change Tehran’s confrontational course. This hostage incident occurred amid increased efforts by the West to engage Iran through diplomacy.

The Tribune article chided the White House for its “confrontational” approach—its supposed refusal to talk with Iran and pushing for punishments like economic sanctions. But the fact is, America’s “confrontational” approach throughout these years of its “war on terror”—despite Iran being indisputably the world’s top sponsor of terrorism—has been so mild as to be utterly fruitless. Efforts by America, Britain and Europe to contain Iran—give-and-take discussions, flexible ultimatums, vague threats, modest sanctions, expressions of “grave concern”—have all failed. The plain, little-acknowledged truth is that for years, radical Iranian leaders haven’t been given any reason to back away from their pushy agenda.

Iran was bold enough to kidnap British sailors and soldiers not in spite of the West’s actions against it, but because those actions have been so toothless. Iran’s notion that the West is weak and poses little threat, even in the face of audacious provocations, has been reaffirmed time and again by the West’s timidity. The hostage crisis was yet another perfect example: Tehran captured a bunch of blue-eyed, blond-haired officers and brought them to their knees, humbled the “Great Satan’s” chief ally in the war on terror, and in the end received only thanks for it.

This is a victory for Britain? This is a triumph of diplomacy? A conquest for the forces of peace?

The view that the affair validates the superiority of pursuing peaceful resolutions with Iran to provocative ones ignores the fact that Iran committed an act of war against Britain (and, by extension, the United Nations—and the European Union and nato—all of which are supposed to help when a member state like Britain is attacked), and paid no price for doing so. It ignores the reality that this terrorist-sponsoring nation, almost three decades after the reprehensible 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, is still using hostage-taking as an instrument of its foreign policy—and this incident showed how easy and risk-free the tactic is. It ignores the inconceivable truth that 5 _ years into the “war on terror,” while Britain and the United States are growing weaker and more divided, Iran is by every measure more powerful and influential, more confident and self-assured, stronger militarily and strategically. And it fails to acknowledge just how much momentum such an event gives to the forces of radicalism sweeping the Middle East and beyond.

Thus we clearly see the two prophetically significant trends exposed by this shocking incident.

What Are the Two Trends?

The first trend is the deep and growing weakness of what was, not long ago, the indomitable Great Britain.

Iran’s affronting the Royal Navy with a brash kidnapping is a remarkable symbol of the decimation of what was once the pride of British power. As Melanie Phillips asked: “What on Earth has happened to this country of ours, for so many centuries a byword for defending itself against attack, not least against piracy or acts of war on the high seas?” (op. cit.).

Only 25 years ago, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, faced with enemy attack from the sea on the tiny British island outpost of the Falkland Islands, immediately dispatched a naval task force and blew the invading enemy out of the water! Such Nelsonian courage helped build the Royal Navy into a force that ruled the waves for four centuries. It has taken a mere quarter-century since then to reduce that power into white-flagged appeasement and abject surrender.

Perhaps the most stunning evidence of Britain’s decimated pride and honor in its once-formidable navy is the fact that the nation treated the released seamen like heroes. Astonishingly, these individuals were offered huge sums by media outlets hungry to tell their stories—a request they initially accepted and which the military approved. These are not stories of heroism, but of cowardice and humiliation—stories that will circulate for years to come within those nations most hostile to Britain—embarrassing stories the British should be eager to bury at sea.

Biblical prophecy specifically describes a curse God would send upon a disobedient Britain during the times in which we live—that of breaking the pride in its power (Leviticus 26:19). This prophecy, thoroughly explained in Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The United States and Britain in Prophecy, was prominently displayed in Britain’s weak, fearful response to Iran’s brazen challenge.

The second trend is what the Bible describes as a foreign-policy “push” on the part of the increasingly radical Islamic Republic of Iran.

In a bold prophecy, Daniel described an end-time “king of the south”—every indication about which points to Iran—that will “push” at a world superpower in an act that provokes World War iii (Daniel 11:40). The Trumpet’s editor in chief has indicated that, in addition to being a single bold act, this “push” transpires over a period of time, and has in fact already begun. Iran kidnapping British military personnel without fear of repercussion powerfully illustrates that present “push” and demonstrates the mindset of the power behind that future, even greater provocation.

Considering Iran’s stated ambitions—to become a nuclear power and to eliminate the State of Israel, for starters—the Islamic Republic, unless it is stopped, is on course to start a war. The prophecy in Daniel 11:40 also shows, however, that there is coming a point when Iran’s push will provoke a decisive response—but not from Britain or America.

Read our booklet The King of the South to understand how these extraordinary recent events point toward a prophesied explosive war in the near future.

It can be difficult to grasp the significance of events as they occur, but be assured: We are witnessing the steps that will actually ignite an unparalleled world war!