January 14, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6266

Arab Commentators On American Sailors Incident: This Is Iran's Message On The Eve Of JCPOA 'Implementation Day'

January 14, 2016
Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 6266

On January 12, 2016, Iranian authorities arrested 10 American sailors from two small U.S. naval craft that had strayed into Iranian territorial waters. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested and handcuffed the crew and held them at a military base, releasing them a short time later. Iranian authorities released photos of the sailors kneeling with their hands on their heads.

Following the incident, articles were published in the Arab press both by supporters of Iran and by its opponents, claiming that, with its actions, Iran had sent a message to the U.S. Tareq Al-Homayed, former editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, stated that the IRGC had shamed U.S. President Obama and shown him to be weak on the eve of the JCPOA's "Implementation Day." The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is affiliated with Hizbullah and supports the resistance axis, argued that the IRGC was sending a message to the U.S. that Iran will be willing to clash with it if it has to, and at the same time telling other countries - that is, the Gulf states - not to mess with Iran. It should be noted that Al-Akhbar's January 14, 2016 front page showed the photo of the American sailors kneeling with hands on their heads, under a headline reading "Tehran to Washington: I Control The Gulf."

January 14 Cover of Al-Akhbar: "Tehran to Washington: I Control the Gulf"

Article In Lebanese Daily Close To Hizbullah: Iran Sent U.S. And Others A Message That It Is Ready For A Clash

The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah and the Iranian axis, published an article by columnist Hassan Haidar, who claimed that Iran wanted to use this incident to send a message to the U.S. that it would not hesitate to clash with it if necessary. He added that this was also a message to other countries, hinting at the Gulf states, specifically Saudi Arabia, that the rules of the game have changed and that they must acknowledge their own weakness.

He wrote: "This incident was a quiet yet an important battle, since it took place off the Saudi coast, targeted an American force, and triggered American [responses expressing] hope [that Iran would not hurt the sailors], which were akin to apologizing to Iran. Washington did not threaten war or raise its voice...

"The Revolutionary Guards, which are in charge of defending the Gulf, are known to 'see but not be seen' - a term coined by the head of their navy, General Ali Fadavi. This means that they watch [the goings on] in the Gulf without being noticed by anyone, and in an emergency, they suddenly appear.

"The Revolutionary Guards possibly wanted to send a message to all, that if Iran feels that its interests and security are at stake, it will be willing to enter any conflict, even with the U.S.... [Furthermore,] dealing with Washington in this way ensures that smaller [countries] understand that Tehran will never hesitate to respond to any violation of its sovereignty, and that the rules of the game have changed, and therefore certain [elements] should recognize the limits of their power."[1]

Leading Saudi Writer: Iran Kidnapped Not Only The Sailors But Obama Himself As Well

Tareq Al-Homayed, former editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote on January 14, 2016 that the arrest of the American sailors just hours before President Obama's final State of the Union address had cast a shadow over the address, and had in effect kidnapped the president himself. He noted that the kidnapping had proven that Iran has no intention of moderating its positions, and had exposed Obama, who wanted to present the nuclear agreement with it as a great achievement, in all his weakness. Al-Homayed wrote: "When Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized two American naval craft in the Gulf on Tuesday evening [January 13, 2016], with ten American sailors on board, it was not the sailors who were the important point, but the fact that the Revolutionary Guards effectively kidnapped U.S. President Barak Obama [himself only] a few hours before he was to deliver his final State of the Union address, towards the end of his second term in office. The crisis of the American sailors [detained by] Iran ended [just] a few hours after their arrest, but it was Obama's speech that was hijacked, since the Iranians deprived Obama of the opportunity to appear as the strong man who had forced Iran to capitulate on the nuclear dossier. The sailors' arrest deprived Obama of the chance to boast of the legitimacy of the nuclear agreement and to tell America, which is divided on the Iranian issue, as is the entire world, that Iran has changed and will once again become an active member of the international community, [a country] that renounces violence and respects international treaties and agreements. Some may say that the Iranians' conduct was foolish, and this is true - but so was placing faith in the Iranian regime!

"Hence, the arrest of the Iranian sailors [right] before Obama's address exposed the weakness of the American president and sparked doubts even in those who defend his foreign policy, especially [his policy] towards Iran's [behavior] in our region. Embarrassment was apparent even among the White House staff, as manifest in leaks and excuses conveyed by Obama's staff to the U.S. media during the sailors' detention. The biggest embarrassment was over Obama's handling of the incident... and [the question of] whether or not he would refer to it in his pre-prepared speech. So what we witnessed was not so much the abduction of the sailors but the abduction of the American president himself. His ransom was the missed opportunity to present himself as a strong president enjoying the legitimacy of achieving the nuclear agreement with Iran.

"With the premeditated intent to abuse the American president and to present his weakness to all, the Revolutionary Guards arrested the American sailors, and in fact kidnapped Obama himself, [just] days before the expected implementation of the nuclear agreement they will not submit and that Obama is too weak to boast of victory over them. Likewise, the Revolutionary Guards seek to tell anyone, in Iran and outside it, that their hand is still uppermost in Tehran, despite everything that has happened to Iran recently, after the wild attack on the Saudi Embassy in Iran and Tehran's apology to the [UN] Security Council for this. Additionally, the IRGC's action [i.e. detaining the sailors] is a response that embarrasses the propaganda of the Iranian president [Rohani] and his men - particularly the wily foreign minister [Zarif] and others - who claim that they want peace and openness, as they market lies and corrupt accusations against Saudi Arabia.

"Obama's predicament is not manifested only in his kidnapping, but [also] in that he wants to take a neutral stand vis-à-vis the recent Iranian hostility against Saudi Arabia and the entire region. But he himself became a victim of Iran when [Iran] kidnapped him [just] before his final State of the Union address, and wrecked his opportunity to present himself as an accomplished hero when [his accomplishments] are in fact not yet completed."[2]



[1] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 14, 2016.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 14, 2016.

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