Hostage update: British ambassador to Iran demands to see sailors; Update: U.S. commander says American sailors would have resisted

He’s been told they’re in good condition but not where they are or whether he can visit them. And he wants that to change ASAP. Blair’s talking tough but his foreign ministry people are doing their best to downplay it, going so far as to pretend that the kidnapping is an isolated territorial dispute:

Lord Triesman said he had been assured the group was not being held hostage for political reasons as the UK joined other United Nations Security Council members in imposing tougher sanctions on Iran over its refusal to suspend its nuclear programme. “Our own view is that these things are not linked,” Lord Triesman said. He believed it was a “technical” dispute over whether – as Iran claims – the personnel had strayed into Iranian waters or – as the UK insists – were on the Iraqi side of the border.

They nabbed 15 members of the British military one day before a vote on UN sanctions and two days after the AP dropped a bombshell about Mahdi Army involvement with the Revolutionary Guard, and yet the Foreign Office would have us believe that one has nothing to do with the others? Seriously?

Meanwhile, Pajamas drops a mini-bombshell of its own:

American forces in Iraq now hold some 300 prisoners tied to Iran’s intelligence agencies, Pajamas Media learned from both diplomatic and military sources.

This is believed, by both sources, to be a record number of prisoners tied to Iran. Virtually all were captured in the past two months.

This week’s seizure of 15 British sailors by Iran in the contested waters of the Shattab al-Arab, the ship channel that divides Iraq and Iran, may have been payback for the capture of record number of Iranian operatives inside Iraq. “It may be a bargaining chip,” one diplomatic source said.

The intelligence community is still debating whether the unlawful detainment of British sailors was ordered by Iran’s government or was presented to it as a fait accompli by relatively low-level Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers.

Petraeus is credited with the new zero-tolerance strategy. PJM’s story jibes with today’s story in the Sunday Mirror and yesterday’s report from Asharq Al-Awsat, most notably with respect to the timeline: the Irbil raid that supposedly got the Iranians so spooked happened a little more than two months ago. If we’ve rolled up 300 guys since then (and disrupted as much EFP trafficking as has been claimed), it’s probably due in no small part to intel extracted from the Quds Force members seized in Irbil. Expect plenty more arrests, too, if that “rogue” JAM network that we busted this week is as significant as the media is claiming it is and if, in fact, the reports are true about all that brass from the Revolutionary Guard having suddenly gone missing. (Lots of ifs here, needless to say.)

I expect we’ll see more violence in southern Iraq soon as part of Iran’s retaliation. Sectarian homogeneity has kept things quiet there compared to Baghdad, but it’s also made it easier for Iran to build up influence. Turning the south into a hot war would put the remaining British troops in the middle and offset any good PR coming out of the success of the surge. I wonder if this is an early manifestation of that strategy or if it’s just local Shiites out for revenge.

I leave you with this report of an earlier attempt by Iranian troops to seize or possibly kill coalition troops ostensibly over a territorial misunderstanding. I’m not sure what to make of it.

Update: The wedge is driven! Heh.

Asked by The Independent whether the men under his command would have fired on the Iranians, [Lt. Cdr. Erik Horner] said: “Agreed. Yes. I don’t want to second-guess the British after the fact but our rules of engagement allow a little more latitude. Our boarding team’s training is a little bit more towards self-preservation.”

The executive officer – second-in-command on USS Underwood, the frigate working in the British-controlled task force with HMS Cornwall – said: “The unique US Navy rules of engagement say we not only have a right to self-defence but also an obligation to self-defence. They [the British] had every right in my mind and every justification to defend themselves rather than allow themselves to be taken. Our reaction was, ‘Why didn’t your guys defend themselves?'”…

Yesterday, the former First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, said British rules of engagement were “very much de-escalatory, because we don’t want wars starting … Rather than roaring into action and sinking everything in sight we try to step back and that, of course, is why our chaps were, in effect, able to be captured and taken away.”