With the capture of 15 British sailors close to the Shatt al Arab waterway a week ago Britain is likely to see its so called special relationship with the US under sever strain. It is more than possible that Iran, far from trying to challenge British cartography is instead trying to demonstrate to the UK the dangers trying to sell something that you don't have, in this case influence in Washington.
It seems to be beyond doubt that that the British sailors were in fact in Iraqi waters at the time of the incident, which leaves one asking why this all happened. Whilst British and Iranian diplomats continue to debate co-ordinates, the real reasons behind this incident could well be the capture of five Iranian officials last December, who are currently being held in Iraq by US forces. If this turns out to be the case, there could be many interesting consequences for international relations.
Given the climate of US policy and rhetoric towards Iran, the Iranians know better that to attempt to take US personnel. The British on the other hand, continuing to tell the world of their great influence and strong alliance with the Americans seemed to be the much safer option. If Iran wanted its people back from Iraq, and the alliance was really as strong as the Brits claim it to be, surely capturing British sailors would be the perfect way to exert pressure on the US for their release.
Now one might rightly argue that these two situations are completely different, one involved the capture of Iranian spys on Iraqi soil, whilst the other involved the capture of military personnel legally operating in Iraqi waters, however the fact that this argument is not even raised speaks volumes in itself. The US response has been muted to say the least, Condoleezza Rice only going as far as to say that the international community needed to play a role.
The British Government, in pretending to hold more than it does in Washington has turned our personnel into pawns in a game between Washington and Tehran. In the end Iran is most probably unlikely to get anywhere on the return of their prisoners from Iraq, and Britain may well get frustrated with the US's hands off approach. However this outcome might not be so bad from Iran's point of view either. If the shallowness of the special relationship is exposed and the Iranians manage to distance the UK and the US, something that would work to their advantage.
Of course this might not have been the reasoning for the kidnapping of the British sailors, however if it was we should watch closely as to what Iran's next move will be. If it starts to raise the issue of its prisoners in Iraq, the relationship between the US and the UK will be put under the spotlight. At this point we will see how strong that relationship really is.