Telegraph: Deal in the works for British sailors' release? Update: Revolutionary Guard commander wants sailors freed?

Haven’t read it yet but I wanted to get the link up before Drudge does. (He’s teasing it but hasn’t added the URL yet.)

Standby for updates.

Update: It’s a non-apology apology. The plan is to send someone from the Royal Navy to Tehran to promise that they’d never knowingly enter Iranian waters. As an acknowledgment of basic territorial sovereignty, that’s unobjectionable; but under the circumstances, as a veiled admission of guilt (which is how it’ll be perceived), it’s as objectionable as can be. A Falkand War vet wonders how it came to this:

Maj Gen Julian Thompson called for a review of the Navy’s rules of engagement, dictated by the United Nations, that they cannot open fire unless they are shot at first. “In my view this thing is a complete cock-up,” he said.

“I want to know why the Marines didn’t open fire or put up some sort of fight. My fear is that they didn’t have the right rules of engagement, which would allow them to do this.”

Captain Ed explains the gist of the problem — in a word, demilitarization. Although that’s not the whole problem. Check out this poll, some of the numbers from which are truly depressing:

Only 8 percent of respondents to the survey for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper said Britain should prepare to use military force at this stage, nine days into the crisis. Asked if force should be used as a last resort, 48 percent were opposed and 44 percent in favor…

Forty percent of Britons polled backed the government’s current strategy of quiet diplomacy but no apology to Iran, while 17 percent felt Britain should impose sanctions and 26 percent felt Britain should apologize and ask for the captives back.

The Telegraph says British officials fear this could drag on for months, a la 1979.

Update: They’re practically apologizing already: “The message I want to send is I think everyone regrets that this position has arisen. What we want is a way out of it.” The absurd thing about this dispute, according to the former head of Brtain’s maritime Foreign Office, is that there is no official boundary between Iraqi and Iranian waters. Both sides are talking nonsense when they point to GPS coordinates since there’s no demarcation reference point that would formally deem the boat inside one country or the other. Which in turn means that Britain’s promise not to enter Iranian waters in the future is meaningless.

I figure they must have broached this idea of the conciliatory non-apology apology in the note they sent to Tehran earlier today because the Iranian envoy to Russia who hinted the sailors might be put on trial later backed away from that, claiming that he’d been mistranslated. It may be that they’re trying to defuse the situation before the hardliners really start demagoging it in earnest next week:

It has also emerged that the President will hold a press conference on the crisis on Tuesday. His intervention – which comes at the end of a two-week national holiday that has hampered diplomatic activity – suggests that, far from bringing an end to the crisis, the return to work of Iranian politicians could herald its escalation.

Iranian media have been trumpeting Britain’s failure to secure a strong condemnation of Iran at the UN Security Council or a freeze on EU diplomacy. State television has run footage of the seizure of the boats and the “confessions” of Faye Turney and Nathan Thomas Summers, two of the seized UK personnel, repeatedly on the news channel.

The EU called for the sailors’ release a few days ago but when asked last night to do something about it by freezing exports to Iran, they balked. Iran greeted the capitulation today, naturally enough, with a threat. Amid the stupid Russian rumors that the U.S. is planning to attack Iran this Friday, Bush called for the sailors’ release himself today and the State Department made clear there’ll be no swap for the Quds Force boys we nabbed in Irbil just in case that’s what the Iranian leadership has in mind.

I wish I had some red meat to offer you here, but the pickings are slim except for these two righteously indignant Telegraph editorials. You know they’re mad when they’re quoting Caligula.

Update: A fracture within the leadership? I think it’s psyops, mainly because the Revolutionary Guard was responsible for seizing the sailors in the first place. Why would their leader have ordered the operation if he was going to panic a week later when Britain inevitably took umbrage?

For what it’s worth:

According to an Iranian military source, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards has called for them to be freed.

Major-General Yahya Rahim Safavi is said to have told the country’s Supreme National Security Council on Friday that the situation was “getting out of control” and urged its members to consider the immediate release of the prisoners to defuse tension in the Gulf…

Iranian military sources said the Supreme National Security Council had concluded on Friday evening that Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, should order the release of the British naval personnel on Safavi’s advice.

However, according to one account, which could not be confirmed, Javani described Safavi’s recommendation as tantamount to treason.

According to an article out tonight in WaPo, there are very few people in Iran right now who’d feel safe questioning Safavi’s loyalty. The IRGC has allegedly assumed control of key sectors of the country’s energy and weapons industries, thanks in part to Ahmadinejad’s patronage. It’s important and only a page long, so read all of it; roughly speaking, it sounds like they are to the Iranian army what the SS was to the Wehrmacht.

The Guard is now a less effective conventional fighting force than it was during the Iran-Iraq war, Cordesman said. But it controls the deadliest arms, including adapted Scud missiles with ranges up to 1,200 miles, along with a chemical and biological weapons program and missile production. The Revolutionary Guard remains “the center of Iran’s hard-line security forces,” he said.

The most secretive Guard unit is the Quds Force, which conducts operations beyond Iran’s borders using proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Cordesman says in the book. It has several directorates — for Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Jordan; Afghanistan, Pakistan and India; Turkey and the Arabian Peninsula; North Africa; and Europe and North America, Cordesman writes. It has operatives in many embassies abroad, he says, and runs Iran’s training camps for unconventional warfare.

Buried within is a tidbit I haven’t seen before: apparently, Iran thought the five Quds Force members we captured at Irbil were going to be released on March 21, the start of the Iranian New Year. Why they thought we would do that is utterly beyond me, but there may be something to it. After all, the sailors were taken only 48 hours later.