January 21, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6272

Responses In Iran To Capture Of American Sailors

January 21, 2016
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 6272

A number of prominent Iranian figures from both Iran's pragmatic and ideological camps have praised Iran's actions following the January 12, 2016 capture by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of 10 American sailors in two small naval craft who strayed into Iranian territorial waters. According to them, Iran conducted itself honorably during the incident and the events that followed, and resolved the situation swiftly by means of dialogue, out of concern for the security of the Gulf.

It is likely that Tehran decided to release the sailors so as not to thwart the U.S.'s lifting of sanctions as part of the JCPOA, set for several days later, and also to rectify the negative impression of Iran in international public opinion stemming from the January 2, 2016 torching of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and the Saudi Consulate in Mashhad.[1]

Regardless, immediately following the sailors' release, the IRGC published videos of the humiliation of the American sailors, showing them kneeling with their hands on their heads and apologizing for entering Iranian waters. IRGC deputy commander Hossein Salami even said that the sailors wept when they were captured. Basij commander Mohammad Reza Naqdi, enraged at pragmatic camp media's and officials' emphasis on the U.S. administration's expressions of gratitude to Iran for the speedy release of the sailors, warned the U.S. to beware Iran's might, and others issued a similar warning to Saudi Arabia.

Following are the major reactions in Iran to the capture of the American sailors and their release 12 hours later, along with a number of cartoons from websites affiliated with the ideological camp:

Ideological Camp Officials Mock, Warn U.S.

IRGC Deputy Commander: American Sailors Wept After Capture

On January 16, 2016, IRGC deputy commander Hossein Salami elaborated on the sailors' capture and reaction: "After World War II, no country managed to arrest American soldiers. But after [some of them] entered our territorial waters, Iranian small craft, though few in number, succeeded in surrounding them like eagles. These 10 sailors bowed their heads in submission to five or six young IRGC members.

"The U.S. has aircraft carriers with 60 fighter jets and 5,000 crew members. But [after the sailors' capture] they got into trouble, and flew their airplanes without stopping, and we heard the voice of the superpower tremble.

"Then, [our] craft quickly covered Farsi Island [where the sailors were captured], and told [the Americans] that if they made the slightest wrong move, Iran would respond decisively.

"After that, we heard the pleas of their political elements, who phoned and requested that we release their sailors. We investigated and concluded that these sailors had entered Iranian territorial waters by accident.

"After their capture, these gunslingers began to weep, but the compassion of the IRGC soldiers reassured them. The American officials apologized, and humbly acknowledged our might. Because we realized that these armed sailors had entered Iran's territorial waters accidentally, we released them, and even handed back their weapons."[2]

"Smart sailors! The capture of the gunslingers is humiliation for America and for those recently arrived in the region" Right: American boats flee waves and seek refuge with Iran; Left: Once safe, they wet themselves in fear.  (Source:, January 16, 2016)

IRGC naval commander Ali Fadavi stressed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had demanded, in his phone conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, that the sailors be released, but that "Zarif had taken a firm stand and demanded an apology for the incident."[3]

In a January 13 statement, the IRGC also stressed that the sailors had been released "after the U.S. apologized and promised not to repeat the mistake."[4] It should, however, be noted that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the same day: "There's no apology and there's nothing to apologize for."[5]

Iranian armed forces chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi said that he hoped that "the incident of the boat incursion would be a lesson to the American Congress, which sets obstacles for Iran."[6]

"No words necessary." (Source:, January 13, 2016)

Iranian Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezaei stated that both the Saudis and the Americans needed to learn a lesson from this incident, and warned them that they "should not play with fire": "The army of a superpower was put in the hands of our IRGC forces calmly. This showed the capability of Iranian forces.

"The modern American boats are designed to confront the IRGC's fast boats. Our brothers used tactics to surround the American boats. The Americans had no choice except to surrender to us.

"Zarif should tell the Americans that they must follow military standards.

"The American soldiers were calm in the IRGC's room as world armies fear even the name of the IRGC. The pictures show that even American military men did not believe the false American propaganda - otherwise they would not be calm.

"Had the American boats attacked our island, we would have acted differently. But when they realized their mistake, we treated them humanely.

"The IRGC's encounter [with the Americans] sent several messages. The first message, to the countries of the region, is that they should not play with fire. Everyone saw that Iran could easily apprehend boats belonging to the most modern and greatest armies of the world, and that they released them [from a position of] strength. 

"Our message to Saudi Arabia is not to fall onto the wrong path. It should know that powerful Iran is next to its ear [i.e. very close to it].

"America needs to know that Iran is a country that encountered American riflemen in a moral way as it [Iran] was at the peak of its power. Our message to America is very important for Iran's future, since America does not learn its lesson and wants to go from one sanction to another."[7]

"GPS, where are we? Where are we exactly?" (Source:, January 13, 2016)

On January 14, Basij commander Naqdi lashed out at pragmatic camp media for stressing Secretary of State Kerry's gratitude to Iran for its swift release of the sailors. He said: "Unfortunately, after the American sailors kneeled and placed their hands behind their heads in surrender, some media in Iran, instead of highlighting the might of our soldiers, noted that the American foreign minister had thanked Iran. These media outlets want to depict the enemy as rational. But that is not the case. In fact, he [Kerry] erred in daring to express gratitude, and his soldiers erred by daring to come to the Persian Gulf."[8]

Iranian Figures Praise Iran's Conduct, Diplomacy

Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted on January 13: "Happy to see dialogue and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the #sailors episode. Let's learn from this latest example."[9]

Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee chairman Ala Al-Din Boroujerdi said: "The honor and national power of Iran was presented one more time by the wise and powerful actions of the IRGC's navy. Their actions showed that Iran controls the preservation of security in the Persian Gulf, and America has to follow the rules of this game. Even though two American boats did not violate the marine borders of the Persian Gulf purposefully, the speedy and wise reaction of IRGC presented Iran's power one more time. The Islamic behavior of the IRGC brothers towards the American detainees is admirable.

"The clear message of this action to the countries of the region was that Iran feels responsible toward the security of this sensitive region, and is situated such that it can confront the great powers in this way. These [great powers] need to take notice, and must not make calculated mistakes."[10]

Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Hossein Naghavi Hosseini also said, on January 13, that the release of the American sailors had shown that Iran does not seek to create tension in the Gulf. The Americans and Europeans must know, he said, that in such cases, Iran acts with good intentions, as shown by the fact that the sailors were released in less than 24 hours. But, he said, if the other side does not have good intentions, they can expect a different reaction: "This showed that the IRGC navy controls the area, and does not allow any force to infiltrate Iran's borders. This incident showed Iran's might on its borders and on its waters. We don't care who we face. We will deal with any future incursion and attack so that [the perpetrators] regret such acts.

"Entering Iran's territorial waters is illegal, regardless of the reason. We released the American sailors after concluding that they had entered accidentally. This has turned into a lesson for the U.S., which must know that we will not allow anyone to enter our territorial waters. In addition, this incident has shown that the U.S. cannot influence us by raising a racket. Iran does not fear these moves, and deals with matters according to legal procedure."[11]

Hashemi Rafsanjani offered a brief comment as well, saying: "The government, Zarif, and [the] IRGC concluded this incident properly."[12]

Reformist professor Sadegh Zibakalam also praised the IRGC for its responsible and honorable actions, and for conducting direct Tehran-Washington diplomacy. He wrote in the Shargh daily on January 14: "Only a few anxious hours passed from the arrest of the 10 American soldiers to Washington's confirmation of their safe return. Happily, we saw a peaceful conclusion and honorable diplomatic conduct.

"In order to examine this further, we must compare this to the capture of the British sailors [in March 2007] during the presidency of Ahmadinejad. In this [present] incident, the IRGC showed that it is an organized and precise force in the Persian Gulf, and that it operates in accordance with international protocol. [Also] in this incident, the IRGC acted responsibly. It showed that it did not seek to exploit this matter for political propaganda. It managed the scene properly, despite the presence of American aircraft carriers, and despite the fact that not a few wished to exploit this matter for propaganda against the U.S. or against the current [Iranian] government [of President Hassan Rohani].

"This incident has shown that there is consensus among all decision-making institutions when some crisis threatens our geographic sovereignty - that is, that there is unity and coordination in matters of our national interests.

"In addition, it has shown that in such cases, direct contact with the U.S. can prevent possible misunderstanding. As in the case of what happened to the Saudi Embassy, this time too, when the sailors were arrested, John Kerry spoke to Zarif. This talk both reassured Kerry and showed him Iran's resolute position. Without such a direct phone conversation, the U.S. might have declared this move by Iran to be hostile, and even announce preparations to free the sailors. Then Iran would have responded harshly - first transferring them to Tehran and interrogating them for entering Iran's territorial waters illegally, and then deciding what to do with them. In short, this minor issue could have escalated into a serious diplomatic incident.

"In this scenario, we can only imagine the smiles on the faces of [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu and Saudi officials. They would have joined the extremists in the U.S., and said that [President] Obama had been deceived by the smiles of Zarif and Rohani.

"However, in 2007, Ahmadinejad managed the entire British sailors affair on his own. At first, he said that they had entered without permission, and that the aggressors must be taught a lesson. Then-British prime minister Tony Blair sternly called for releasing the sailors, without any diplomatic [negotiation]. This was the exact opposite of the American behavior [today]. Eventually, Ahmadinejad dressed the British sailors in suits and paraded them before the amazed Iranians.

"This shows that our government is mature, and does not wish to become known worldwide from such incidents. I wish that we would have seen similar actions in the matter of the [torching of the] Saudi Embassy, that would have ensured that national interests take priority over the emotions of the moment. Therefore, Saudi Arabia should have provided answers to global public opinion for its execution of one of its unarmed critics."[13]

Photos of the captured sailors (Source: ISNA, Iran, January 14, 2016)




[2], January 16, 2016.

[3], January 13, 2016.

[4], January 13, 2016.

[5], January 13, 2016.

[6], January 13, 2016.

[7], January 14, 2016.

[8] ISNA (Iran), January 14, 2016.

[9], January 13, 2016.

[10], January 14, 2016.

[11] ISNA (Iran), January 13, 2016.

[12], January 14, 2016.

[13], January 14, 2016.

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