Max Hastings on Iran

#1
What do you think ?



Why there must be sackings over Iran
By MAX HASTINGS -



This was a public relations coup to make Richard Branson's campaigns for Virgin seem amateur stuff.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has replaced Saddam Hussein at the summit of George Bush and Tony Blair's list of public enemies. Yet this week, he transformed himself into Santa Claus while Britain was left looking ridiculous.

On Tuesday, we were gloomily preparing for a long round of cat-and-mouse, warned to expect as much from our caravanning Foreign Secretary, Mrs Margaret Beckett.



Suited and booted: the sailors held captive for 13 days leave Tehran wearing clothes given to them by their Iranian captors

But on Wednesday there was a flash of light: Ahmadinejad whisked away the curtain. Behold, he returned our people to us with a beaming smile and cringe-making expressions of thanks from the prisoners.

The denouement was reminiscent of those sham executions which dictators love. Tie your victims to stakes, march in the firing squad, load rifles with much clattering of bolts - then laugh heartily and tell the condemned they are let off. That is how monsters get gratitude. It is horrible, it is barbaric, and it works.

Just in case you were tempted to suppose that Ahmadinejad is an Easter bunny, take note of the four British soldiers blown to pieces in Basra yesterday.

Almost certainly, the bomb which killed them was made in Iran, with its president's eager encouragement. His profession of friendship is the smile on the face of the tiger.

What's more, there were the chilling images of crowds celebrating the deaths and gleefully holding up the helmet of one of the victims.

Everybody in Britain is relieved that we have got back our 15 sailors and Marines. Almost no one outside their families, however, is in a mood to celebrate.

It scarcely matters whether Tony Blair has struck a secret bargain with Iran, as his old friend Silvio Berlusconi so often did to retrieve Italian prisoners from terrorists.

As a nation, whatever the terms or lack of them, this tawdry business has cost us dignity and respect around the world. In its wake, we must learn vital lessons and attribute blame where it is due.

First, the Royal Navy has blundered. It seems unlikely that Commodore Nick Lambert, the local commander off Iraq, will gain promotion to admiral, or deserve to.

A board of inquiry will examine what happened. To prevent a naval whitewash, this should include independent representation.

Blame must go higher than the Commodore. The patrol which was captured operated under procedures and rules of engagement agreed by much more senior officers.

A soldier with recent Iraq experience said to me this week: 'In Basra, we have been fighting a proxy war with the Iranians for years. What was the Navy thinking about, trailing its coat within reach of their patrol boats, as if they were out for a Sunday ride?'

The British Army is thoroughly attuned to operating in a combat environment. The Navy is not.

In the nature of its role, most sailors - like the RAF - work not uncomfortable routines and scarcely suffer a casualty from one year to the next. They belong to the Armed Forces but have little experience of fighting anybody.

This is why there is a strong case for ensuring that the Chief of Defence Staff is always a soldier. We should abandon the nonsense of rotating the top job among the three services. Our services need leadership at the top, from people who understand what fighting forces are about, as few modern sailors and airmen do.

Some naval heads must roll for the Iranian fiasco. It will not do merely to let officers "retire with honour" at the end of their present postings.

When a fiasco of this magnitude takes place in any walk of life, those responsible must not only be sacked, they must be seen to be sacked.

Plenty has already been said about the embarrassing behaviour of our captives in Iranian hands. I do not for a moment believe that they were either tortured or brainwashed, whatever that means. Most likely, they simply said what they thought would get them released. "If only they hadn't rolled over so quickly," as an army officer said to me ruefully.

The prisoners' public demeanour was pitiful, and sorely damaging to the image of Britain's armed forces.

President Ahmadinejad spoke patronisingly when he suggested that Ms Faye Turney should have stayed at home with her small child rather than sailed with the British navy, but he had a point.

If Turney is to get special sympathy for being the first to grovel on Iranian TV, because she is a mother, then she supports Ahmadinejad's cheap jibe. Many of us have always been highly sceptical about the notion of women in the front line. We are even more so today, after witnessing the humiliation of poor Faye Turney.

I hope that even in Blair's Britain, there will be no question of giving medals to any of the captives. They may deserve our pity, but they do not command our respect.

In this country today, we find it more and more difficult to distinguish between heroes, who make some voluntary sacrifice, and victims, who merely endure involuntary experiences.

The captives were victims, no more and no less. They have suffered a very unpleasant and frightening ordeal.

If they were unready to accept such risks, however, they should have chosen employment at Tesco rather than in a fighting service.

You will remember all that stuff about the wartime heroines of Special Operations Executive, captured by the Germans: "They died without revealing anything."

After the Iranian episode, nobody will "carve with pride" the names of the Royal Navy or Royal Marine personnel involved.

Of course they said what they said on Iranian TV under duress. They were only pretending. But heroic they were not.

All the above, however, is small potatoes, concerning the little people caught up in the story.

The important lessons concern the big things, and the big people responsible for them.

What do we do next about Iran? And about Iraq, which is why our naval patrol was on the Shatt-Al-Arab waterway in the first place.

Iran will continue to pose acute difficulties for the West, and especially for the British Government.

For many months ahead, any friendly noise which London might make towards Tehran, any hint at sympathetic engagement, will cause the world to say: this is payback for letting out Britain's hostages.

Yet Blair, and soon Gordon Brown, will have to swallow those taunts, and keep talking anyway.

There is no credible military option for destroying Iran's nuclear programme, nor for forcing it to abandon its commitment to international terrorism.

Only diplomacy, backed by economic carrot and stick, may eventually persuade this violently emotional, erratic society to join a rational universe.

It is just possible that some crumb of good will come of the hostage release. President Ahmadinejad may be sufficiently delighted with his media triumph to perceive new merit in parleying with the West.

Unfortunately, however, he and his government have a long record of mendacity and duplicity. Again and again, they have made promises, then shamelessly broken them.

Their determination to build nuclear weapons seems irrevocable. Their commitment to promoting the destruction of Israel is etched into their modern experience.

Their only claims upon the world's attention and respect derives from their oil, and their ability to wreak death and destruction. So long as this remains true, we must expect more bloody mischief at their hands.

A long, stony road lies ahead. The price of Bush and Blair's catastrophe in neighbouring Iraq is that we have precious little ammunition left - literally or figuratively - to confront Iran. We must haggle with the Iranians, because we cannot fight them.

Finally, of course, there is Iraq. Whatever temporary military successes Bush's troop "surge" are achieving, there is now no doubt that the game is over, and lost.

The Iraqi government, its institutions and security forces, are quite incapable of assuming responsibility for the country within an acceptable time frame. Chaos and misery lie ahead.

The truth is that Bush and Blair are concerned only with postponing an admission of defeat until they have quit office, no matter how many new corpses are created along the way.

Some of us have long argued that Iraq's fate will be the same, whether we leave in five weeks or five years. Almost certainly the right course - the one Bush and Blair never choose - is to go now.

We have lost the battle to create a new world in the Middle East by force of arms. The seizure of our sailors and Marines, our manifest dependence on Iranian whim to liberate them, was one small demonstration of impotence.

In Iraq, the follies of the US and British governments have laid bare the weakness of armed forces which once seemed invincible.

Hence-forward, we shall have to talk our way towards an accommodation with the rogue states of the Middle East, and desperately difficult this will be.

Iran's wily and dangerous President Ahmadinejad will spend a much happier Easter than George Bush and Tony Blair deserve to.
 
#2
I'm in full agreement, especially his comments about the 'Navy'.
 
#3
Not a lot wrong with his conclusions, although they're getting all bent out of shape about it over on pprune :D
 
#4
Perhaps Mr Hastings should take the time to explain his theories to the relatives and friends of these people. I'm sure they'd feel happier knowing their relatives died doing something less dangerous than their counterparts in the Army-

http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=447272007

http://news.scotsman.com/LATEST.CFM?id=1348692006

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1402435,00.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2875009.stm

Too many chats, over a long lunch and alcoholic drinks, with senior army officers eyeing the top slot in the firm Mr Hastings?

Beneath contempt.
 
#5
I don't like admitting it, but he raises some uncomfortably accurate points.
 
#6
gallowglass said:
I don't like admitting it, but he raises some uncomfortably accurate points.
He is hardly raising original ones on the operational front. See Rum Ration. His shameless denigration of UK Service Personnel who don't wear his favourite colour uniform is sickening.
 
#7
gallowglass said:
I don't like admitting it, but he raises some uncomfortably accurate points.
He does indeed seem to do so - and partly because his principal Services contacts are, and have always been, in the army.

Had he been with the Navy or RM in the Falklands, which was MH's finest hour, his perspective in this matter might well be different.
 
#8
Neuroleptic said:
gallowglass said:
I don't like admitting it, but he raises some uncomfortably accurate points.
He is hardly raising original ones on the operational front. See Rum Ration. His shameless denigration of UK Service Personnel who don't wear his favourite colour uniform is sickening.
Like I said Neuroleptic, I don't like most of what Hastings wrote, nor do I like the manner in which he puts across his points, which seems to come down to Army = Good, Navy = Sh*t. However, some of his points I cannot help but agree with.
 
#9
Max Hastings gets tiresome.....one day he's Guardian, next day he's Mail.......I notice the Telegraph doesn't invite him back.

The Navy has been a bit slipshod and should improve its performance; but is there any aspect of Britain's military today that is running optimally ?

Is there any aspect of Britain which is running optimally ?
 
#10
The problem is, how else are the RN going to search these ships?

Rapid roping is expensive and carries additional risks (dropping the WREN could sink the ship below). :wink:

Bringing the Cornwall in closer loses her mobility and could allow a suicide attack such as happened to the USS Cole. Is it worth risking 250 million quids worth of kit for that (plus the 250 lives)?

Bringing in minesweepers, patrol boats again brings in additional slow moving lightly armed and armoured targets into RPG / HMG range (say hiding onboard the vessel due to be searched). I also doubt if a Navy Lynx carries any armour or much ECM type kit to jam hand held anti-air missiles.

Apart from a few lads (and lasses) in RIBS, I can't see another way. We were not at war with the Iranians, Saddam's Navy is no more - so up until this incident, I can't really blame the Navy for not shooting at anything within 10 NM of the RIBS.

No maths expert, but even I can see that at 30 knots the Iranians would have covered the distance in less than 4 minutes - not enough time for even a missile armed helo to challange and fire under any ROE's I have ever seen (especially on a busy, crowded waterway).
 
#11
This is my first [and probably last] post on this 'debacle'.
I read Hastings missive with great care and find that in general he has hit the nail on the head. The truth is often uncomfortable and as an ex-Navy man [and Army] I found the whole episode cringe-making and damaging to the good name of the service. If lessons aren't learnt and robust changes made, then I can only foresee more serious problems ahead.
 
#12
Max is wrong. We could easily defeat their Air Force, which would give us air superiority. The Iranian Govt is unpopular at home and may not survive a challenge from within. There is no way that Israel is going to allow Iran to be a nuclear power, and he dismisses the ability of the US to act. Where are US marines at the moment? They are ready and willing. This is going to end up in armed conflict, no amount of bull from an old campaigner with an axe to grind is going to change my mind.

Oh and what exactly did General Jackson achieve when he was in charge? Acquiescence in the face of New Labour?
 
#13
nigegilb said:
Max is wrong. We could easily defeat their Air Force, which would give us air superiority. The Iranian Govt is unpopular at home and may not survive a challenge from within. There is no way that Israel is going to allow Iran to be a nuclear power, and he dismisses the ability of the US to act. Where are US marines at the moment? They are ready and willing. This is going to end up in armed conflict, no amount of bull from an old campaigner with an axe to grind is going to change my mind.

Oh and what exactly did General Jackson achieve when he was in charge? Acquiescence in the face of New Labour?
1. Agreed. We could establish immediate air superiority.

2. Ahmedinejad's govt. is indeed very wobbly (and a lot of this incident was caused by that internal instability). Many commentators overlook that critical fact.

3. Israel and its close ally the US will suppress weapons-style nuclear ventures by Iran.

4. There may well be armed conflict - but I'm unsure how the UK will/can fit in.
 
#14
Why doesn't Max Hastings fly out to the Gulf, hire a boat and put his money where his stiff upper-lipped mouth is? First journo to liberate Port Stanley and Tehran.... :roll:
 
#15
I heard Hastings on Radio 4 this evening. What a throbber .....

To paraphrase, on the question of did our folk "fold" too soon:

"US airforce pilots in Vietnam sometimes held out for months or even years before making these broadcasts"

So Max, they made them eventually then? So what was the point of going through all that pain and suffering if you're going to end up doing what they want anyway?

Another armchair general. Quelle surprise.

For what little it may be worth, I think our people did exactly the right thing. They are home, and apparently itching to get back out to the CORNWALL and crack on. Good luck to the men and women of the Royal Navy.
 
#16
No matter your views on Max Hastings he is pretty much spot on here and has only said what most people were thinking, especially about the cringeworthy conduct of the naval people involved, i heard him speaking on the today programme yesterday and he made some stark points comparing the conduct of our prisoners with the way captured american aircrew in vietnam managed to withstand far harsher treatment for years before making the sort of "confessions" our people did after a few hours. I think the fact he is normally 100 per cent behind the military makes his comments all the more damming,well said sir,....here is more on the theme http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/foreign/tobyharnden/april07/navy.htm
 
#17
I'm not sure that you can compare the behaviour of US pilots in Vietnam with the actions of the matelots in Iran. I know that this is not the forum to discuss pre-op training in too much detail, but one things for sure - OPTAG don't teach Name, Rank, Number for this type of op.

I thought that the language used in last night's statement was interesting, and confirms my own expectations - each member of the group, at one point or another, gave 'a controlled release of non-operational information'...

dpm
 
#18
MH makes some good points and I agree with him that CDS should be a pongo (or in extremis a Marine) but he seems to be unaware of the way in which joint and combined operations are planned and executed. The RN is not responsible for the ROE in the NAG, PJHQ is.

Also, at no point in that operation would Cdre Lambert, or Capt Air, have been authorised to use lethal force to resist detention of the boarding party by the Iranians. Even under the inherent right to self-defence Capt Air would not have been authorised to use lethal force until the Iranians had demonstrated hostile intent. When did the Iranians demonstrate hostile intent? When the first two Iranian boats sped towards them? No. When the Iranians came alongside? No. At some unspecified point during the conversation with the IRG Comd? Perhaps. But at that point what was Capt Air supposed to do? Open fire and end up with his whole command dead? What would that have achieved? Some posters seem to think that this would have shown Western resolve, but aren't we doing that in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere? No, war with Iran may come, but not now and under these circumstances. Capt Air did the right thing and showed sound judgement.

As for their subsequent conduct they did exactly what we are taught to do when we are subject to a criminal act with a power we are not at war with - comply, de-escalate and let the diplomats sort it out. If Capt Air and his booties and sailors had been captured by a Shia militia I'm sure their behaviour would have been different.

Anyhoo, Happy Easter!
 
#19
praetorian72 said:
MH makes some good points and I agree with him that CDS should be a pongo (or in extremis a Marine) but he seems to be unaware of the way in which joint and combined operations are planned and executed. The RN is not responsible for the ROE in the NAG, PJHQ is.

Also, at no point in that operation would Cdre Lambert, or Capt Air, have been authorised to use lethal force to resist detention of the boarding party by the Iranians. Even under the inherent right to self-defence Capt Air would not have been authorised to use lethal force until the Iranians had demonstrated hostile intent. When did the Iranians demonstrate hostile intent? When the first two Iranian boats sped towards them? No. When the Iranians came alongside? No. At some unspecified point during the conversation with the IRG Comd? Perhaps. But at that point what was Capt Air supposed to do? Open fire and end up with his whole command dead? What would that have achieved? Some posters seem to think that this would have shown Western resolve, but aren't we doing that in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere? No, war with Iran may come, but not now and under these circumstances. Capt Air did the right thing and showed sound judgement.

As for their subsequent conduct they did exactly what we are taught to do when we are subject to a criminal act with a power we are not at war with - comply, de-escalate and let the diplomats sort it out. If Capt Air and his booties and sailors had been captured by a Shia militia I'm sure their behaviour would have been different.

Anyhoo, Happy Easter!
I've been on my soap box before about RoE and MOUs. My experience is that the nitty gritty detail promulgated through the MOU is rarely released below BG (Ship?) level. There almost certainly is guidance/RoE for this type of incident, and it's probably pretty robust (my guess, having read a few), but I wonder whether these lads were exposed to it, or even know what an MOU is?

dpm
 
#20
praetorian72 said:
MH makes some good points and I agree with him that CDS should be a pongo (or in extremis a Marine) but he seems to be unaware of the way in which joint and combined operations are planned and executed. The RN is not responsible for the ROE in the NAG, PJHQ is.

Also, at no point in that operation would Cdre Lambert, or Capt Air, have been authorised to use lethal force to resist detention of the boarding party by the Iranians. Even under the inherent right to self-defence Capt Air would not have been authorised to use lethal force until the Iranians had demonstrated hostile intent. When did the Iranians demonstrate hostile intent? When the first two Iranian boats sped towards them? No. When the Iranians came alongside? No. At some unspecified point during the conversation with the IRG Comd? Perhaps. But at that point what was Capt Air supposed to do? Open fire and end up with his whole command dead? What would that have achieved? Some posters seem to think that this would have shown Western resolve, but aren't we doing that in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere? No, war with Iran may come, but not now and under these circumstances. Capt Air did the right thing and showed sound judgement.

As for their subsequent conduct they did exactly what we are taught to do when we are subject to a criminal act with a power we are not at war with - comply, de-escalate and let the diplomats sort it out. If Capt Air and his booties and sailors had been captured by a Shia militia I'm sure their behaviour would have been different.

Anyhoo, Happy Easter!
well said, praetorian. You make a very sound point about the inherent right of self-defence, and its limited usefulness in this case. Had they opened fire, any British survivors could have ended up accused (by the Iranians) of murder. And the Iranians themselves would have plausibly justified their actions by the inherent right of self-defence.

Did the officers in the party correctly apply the principles of mission command? It appears that they did.

Recent verbal attacks on the matelots and Royals involved are IMHO utterly pointless, and a distraction from the real lessons to be learned.

D.Y.
 

Similar threads


Latest Threads

Top