Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Wednesday, Jan. 13, released 10 US sailors, 9 men and a woman, who were seized a day earlier with their two patrol boats and held for interrogation as suspected spies. An IRGC statement read out on Iranian state TV said the sailors had been released back into international waters after the US had apologized and clarified the incursion was unintentional. The boats were sized shortly before sanctions were due to be lifted Friday, Jan. 15.
The Fars News agency, the IRGC’s mouthpiece, used the term “snooping.” Another Iranian report called the detained Americans “prisoners.” Administration officials in Washington said the ships were on a routine mission from Kuwait to Bahrain when they experienced mechanical problems and contact with them was lost when they “strayed into Iranian waters.” Other US officials stressed that it is unclear exactly what happened. When they were captured, the boats appear to have been under the guns of IRGC commando boats near the tiny Farsi island, which the Guards have closed off as their base.
In an effort to defuse the incident, Secretary of State John Kerry called his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stressed the gravity of the situation and insisted that the sailors were “going to get out.”
Hours later, the Iranian foreign minister got back to Kerry with the cool message that the American seamen were in good health and had not been harmed, but said nothing about releasing them or the US boats.
debkafile’s Iranian and intelligence sources note that Iran’s act of aggression against the US was orchestrated by the IRGC, like the provocative test launches of nuclear capable ballistic missiles in violation of UN Security Council resolutions a couple of weeks ago, and the mob torching of the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the kingdom’s consulate in Mashad.
While the Obama administration and Kerry make every effort to present Iran as fully compliant with the terms of the nuclear accord, concluded with the six world powers last November, the hard-line Guards, the strongest political and military power in Iran, are engaged in deliberate delaying tactics.
Washington initially announced that sanctions would be applied against Iran over the missile tests, but then quickly backtracked. The IRGC saw this as offering a clear field to escalate its anti-US tactics and move from undermining the nuclear accord to a direct assault on an American target.
According to our Iranian sources, the ruling elite in Tehran is in a high state of tension, not only because of the dispute between moderates and hardliners over the nuclear accord, but also in the run-up to two cardinal elections on the Feb. 26 to the Majlis and the powerful Assembly of Experts, which holds the prerogative for selecting or removing Revolutionary Iran’s supreme leader.
The approach of these two votes is having an unsettling effort on the Islamic Republic’s political stability with dire fallout on the key issue of its controversial relations with the United States.