Revolusjonsgarden står bak tilfangetakelsen av 15 briter. Bakgrunnen var amerikanernes arrestasjonen av fem gardister i Irbil i desember. Garden er en stat i staten. Det er betydelig misnøye i Iran med dens selvtekt.

Det skriver Ali Ansari i the Times, i en av de mer innsiktsfulle kommentarer til en situasjon, som skremmer, fordi man ikke forstår hvorfor iranerne fortsetter eskaleringen.

Ansari sier situsjonen krever et kaldt hode og besluttsomhet. Revolusjonsgarden ønsker en krisemaksimering.

Ansari mener det det større bildet er Bushs beslutning om å ignorere Iraq Study Group og gå for the Surge: det utfordrer Irans innflytelse i Bagdad. I den forbindelse tok Bush også et oppgjør med Iran, i form av sofistikerte våpen som dreper amerikanske soldater. Da fem revolusjonsgardister ble tatt i Irbil, begynte ryktene å gå om hevn. Det er den vi ser utspille seg nå.

But the evidence in this present trouble suggests it was no accident. It is more likely to reflect a shift in internal Iranian politics — the renewed confidence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the military wing of the Islamic revolution, strengthened at home and abroad.

For abroad, we should read Iraq. Events there, especially after George Bush’s announcement of the «surge», have driven this particular diplomatic incident. Ignoring the advice of the Baker-Hamilton report, President Bush decided, in an exercise in intellectual acrobatics only an ideologue could achieve, that Iran’s influence in Iraq was insufficient to warrant engagement, but nonetheless important enough to necessitate confrontation. Mr Bush determined that now was the time to get tough with Iran, and in particular the al-Quds force of the IRGC.

That force supplied arms and explosives to Shia militias, some of which found its way into roadside bombs against coalition forces. The commanders on the ground suspected al-Quds of having encouraged these attacks, so Mr Bush decided that it was time to change US forces’ terms of engagement with Iran. The immediate consequences were soon felt, as Iranian diplomats, intelligence officials and IRGC operatives suddenly found themselves the targets of sudden raids and abductions. In one dramatic early morning raid at an IRGC establishment in Irbil, a number were abducted.

The private reaction of some Iranian officials at this raid proved revealing. Basically, they thought, these guardsmen were clearly up to no good, they were caught and that was that. What rankled however, was that these operatives just simply disappeared. These US actions, however, seemed to have the desired effect; IRGC activities subsided considerably. Yet while the volume had suddenly decreased, whispers of retaliation were soon being heard on websites affiliated to the Guards. Indeed, there could be little doubt that that the IRGC intended to respond in kind. This was given extra weight when, in his new year speech, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei said that Iran may have to respond to «illegal acts» with acts of its own. This was two days before the seizure of the British sailors. A coincidence perhaps, but a convenient one for those in the IRGC looking for a green light.

Det er skremmende hvis Ali Khamenei står bak operasjonen, hvilket han sannsynligvis gjør. Revolusjonsgarden er en stat i staten, og driver et eget businessimperium. De står for en militarisering av det iranske samfunn, skriver Ansari.

The IRGC is less a fighting force and more a vast business conglomerate: some Iranian wits have argued that the real reason for the seizure was that the Royal Navy had happened upon an IRGC smuggling operation. In forging its own revenue stream — an entrepreneurial spirit much encouraged by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — the IRGC has succeeded in developing an autonomy within the Iranian state.

This is not a development viewed with universal acclamation in Iran. Many political activists have vocally protested at what they see as the militarisation of Iranian life. Some senior figures have sought to challenge this growing domination by the Guards. The IRGC has served notice, at home and abroad, that it will not be pushed around, conveniently cloaking its actions in the flag of national indignation at this alleged British infringement of territorial integrity.

Observasjonen om at Revolusjonsgarden svøper seg i flagget og bruker nasjonalismen for å fremme egne interesser, er interessant.

Comment: ‘Not a time for hyperbole or mislaid threats’

Ali Ansari is director of the Institute of Iranian Studies, University of St Andrews and author of Confronting Iran