With the “begging” option still very much on the table.

Britain hopes that diplomacy will win the release of 15 sailors and marines detained by Iran but is prepared to move to a “different phase” if not, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday…

“I hope we manage to get them (the Iranian government) to realize they have to release them,” Blair said in an interview with GMTV. “If not, then this will move into a different phase.”

Asked what that meant, Blair said: “Well, we will just have to see, but what they should understand is that we cannot have a situation where our servicemen and women are seized when actually they are in Iraqi waters under a U.N. mandate, patrolling perfectly rightly and in accordance with that mandate, and then effectively captured and taken to Iran.”

He means sanctions, I’m sure.

Never mind this nonsense. Go read Verum Serum’s timeline of U.S./Iranian confrontations in Iraq, which will take you right up to the sailors’ kidnapping. My only quibble with it is that it omits the latest piece in the puzzle — the Times’s own timeline this morning of EFPs being used in country. EFPs are those hyperdestructive IEDs Bush has accused the Quds Force of supplying to Iraqi militias; according to the Times, some Democrats who have looked into the issue now agree with Bush about their Iranian pedigree. With good reason:

American officials said their assessment of Iranian involvement was based on a cumulative picture that included forensic examination of exploded and captured devices, and parallels between the use of the weapons in Iraq and devices used in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah.

“There was no eureka moment,” said one senior American official, who like several others would discuss intelligence and administration decision-making only on condition of anonymity.

The entire E.F.P. assembly seen repeatedly in Iraq, including the radio link used to activate it and the infrared sensor used to fire it, had been found only one other place in the world, American officials say: Lebanon, since 1998, where it is believed to have been supplied by Iran to Hezbollah.

According to one military expert, some of the radio transmitters used to activate some of the E.F.P.’s in Iraq operate on the same frequency and use the same codes as devices used against Israeli forces in Lebanon.

More evidence came from the interception of trucks in Iraq, within a few miles of the Iranian border, carrying copper discs machined to the precise curvature required to form the penetrating projectile. Wrappers for C4 explosive, among other items, were traceable to Iran, officials say.

EFP designs used in Iraq later turned up in Lebanon to greet the IDF during last summer’s war. One source describes it as “cross-pollinization” among Iranian proxies.

As I say, though, the key is the timeline. The Times claims our first protest to Iran about the use of EFPs came nearly two years ago, in July 2005. Which presents two exit questions. One, where does this leave the left vis-a-vis its dark hints that EFPs are the 2007 equivalent of Saddam’s WMDs, conjured up by Bush out of the ether as a convenient casus belli? And two, if we’ve known for two years that Iranian weapons are killing U.S. troops, why did we only start targeting Iranian operatives in earnest within the last few months?