Iran's seizure of the 15 British sailors was a carefully planned retaliation for the arrest of five Revolutionary Guard--Quds Force officers from the Iranian consulate in Irbil, Iraq, by U.S. forces on Jan. 11, according to Western intelligence sources.
The sources tell ABC News the decision to abduct the British marines in that location was apparently calculated to exploit the nebulous and often disputed international border between Iran and Iraq that runs through the Shat al Arab.
Iran has claimed that the sailors had ventured into Iranian waters, a claim that British officials deny. A local fisherman, who witnessed the officers on the Revolutionary Guard patrol boats detain the British sailors, supports the British claim that the sailors were in Iraqi waters.
THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS
The London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat reported that the decision to detain the British sailors was taken on by the regime's Higher Defense Council in light of reports that the detention of the five officers as well as the disappearance of three other senior Iranian officers could seriously compromise ongoing operations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard-Quds Force.
The Quds Force is the arm of the Revolutionary Guard responsible for conducting operations outside of Iran, including the training of militias in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Officials are concerned that the detention of the British sailors could lead to protracted and difficult negotiations in which the Iranians are expected almost certainly to demand the release of the detained Iranians.