Monday, January 07, 2008

You Cannot Wrestle a Dove

There is more than one plausible explanation for the narrowly averted naval incident between US and Iranian vessels near the Strait of Hormuz over the weekend. For example, it could have been a bit of freelancing by some relatively low-ranking Iranian naval officers or, in the alternative, it could have been a bit of deliberate brinkmanship ordered from higher up as part of the internal tug of war between hardliners and moderates over questions of engaging the Americans constructively (possibly by those seeking to stave off the emergence of such detente) - to name but two.

Given the timing of the naval near-miss in relation to Iran's electoral calendar - parliamentary elections are slated for March 14 - I would be remiss if I failed to mention that on this blog a few weeks back, I speculated that Ahmadinejad might be inclined to stoke confrontation with the US (if mostly rhetorical/symbolic) in the ensuing weeks in order to bolster his flagging political prospects (as he has done several times in the past to great effect). The follow up question to that speculation was whether the Bush administration would oblige by playing their part in the ploy for heightened tensions sought by Ahmadinejad.

Which brings me to Juan Cole's read of the event:

The US says it won't protest the incident, which means that they concur it wasn't an intentional provocation from Tehran.

That is, unless Bush administration officials concluded that it was intentional provocation from certain factions within Tehran seeking a more bellicose reaction on our part; factions that are pursuing goals that don't necessarily coincide with our interests. That would be a refreshing break from the pattern.

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