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Iran should not only be handled with kid gloves

This past Saturday, the United Nations’ Security Council voted unanimously for stricter sanctions against Iran for its failure to stop uranium enrichment. So far, the finger-wagging that comprises such measures has proved fruitless: Iran still hasn’t abandoned its nuclear ambitions, and is increasing the diplomatic ante with its refusal to release British sailors and marines who were operating in waters near the Iraq-Iran border, as well as the buildup of its military complex. Thus the question remains: should the efficacy, or lack thereof, of Security Council resolutions be the only option that’s considered when handling the renegade republic?

Consider the row regarding the 15 Britons captured, as well as Iran’s treatment of the event. The sailors and marines, who were conducting anti-smuggling operations as dictated by UN mandate, were arrested by what was mistakenly thought to be lower-level troops in the Iranian armed forces. It was later revealed, however, that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard abducted them – not so low-level.

Evidence suggests that the British military personnel were not at fault, yet they remain incarcerated and have not yet been able to communicate with British diplomats in Iran.

At press time, the British personnel are still being detained by order of the Iranian government – but don’t worry, it assures they’re being treated “humanely.” The government has admitted to interrogating the soldiers, and there are calls for them to be tried for espionage in Iranian court.

A similar incident occurred in 2004, when Iran seized six British marines and two sailors over a similar territorial dispute. Though later released, the chilling photos of the blindfolded soldiers displayed on Iranian TV were worrisome, considering that such treatment came at a time when relations between Britain and Iran weren’t nearly as strained.

But the nationalistic parading of foreign soldiers isn’t the only reason to think that diplomacy and economic disarray might not be enough to curb Iran, for the buildup of its military suggests the republic can boast more than defensive intent.

In February, the BBC reported on a Web site associated with Irans Revolutionary Guard, which bragged about a drone aircraft capable of attacking U.S. warships. This same report noted the Web site mocked holes in U.S. security in the region. Though unconfirmed, the author boasted abut the Revolutionary Guard’s logo being posted on an American warship without U.S. knowledge.

This report came on the heels of war games conducted by the Iranian army, which was flexing its muscles in response to a U.S. presence in the Gulf. The late-January missile tests, similar to those conducted in November, featured missiles described as short range. But the prize jewel of the January tests – the Shahab-3, which can reach Iran’s neighbors – can hardly be described as friendly.

There’s also the evidence of Iranian meddling in Iraq – the type of meddling that destabilizes a fledgling democracy, which is somewhat disconcerting behavior from the likes of an aspiring nuclear power.

In December, for example, two Iranian officials, described by the Washington Post as “senior Iranian operatives,” were caught by coalition forces in Iraq, complete with a goody bag of “detailed weapons lists, documents pertaining to shipments of weapons into Iraq, organizational charts, telephone records and maps, among other sensitive intelligence information,” not to mention information for the making of Improvised Explosive Devices, which to date are responsible for many coalition deaths and injuries in combat. It is also suspected Iran has funded Muqtada al-Sadr.

Admittedly, it is a positive development that the world community is in greater agreement that Iran’s nuclear program must stop: Russian and Chinese support of sanctions lends even more clout to their severity, even if the move happened to coincide with rumors that Iran was behind on its payments on both the Russian-built nuclear reactor in Bushehr and the nuclear fuel supply.

An article in last week’s edition of Time magazine highlighted how mounting dissent in Iran could work to weaken Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nuclear-thirsty regime. However, the problem with the sanction route is that enforcement of violators is sketchy and Time’s dissent theory fails to explain when what author Scott MacLeod describes as “pragmatic voices in Tehran” will gain power, as well as if it will happen before it’s too late.

Such argument does not demand that the United States and its allies rush to war. On the contrary, it should approach the situation cautiously and not neglect other, more severe avenues, provided the parlaying and brown-nosing known as “incentives packages” fail. If the United States were to unconditionally exclude itself from the military option, it would certainly make the type of abuses that elicit such an option all the more appealing for its enemies. After all, there’s little incentive to behave properly if heavy handedness remains a pipe dream rather than a viable deterrent.

Victoria Bekiempis is a sophomore majoring in history and French.