U.S. Sailors Detained in Iran Head Back to the Sea

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The sailors were released before you woke up this morning. Photo: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

The ten sailors detained by Iran yesterday — an event that caused a quick and mighty political whirlpool — were released on Wednesday and are now heading toward their intended destination, Bahrain

Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement saying, “That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong.” According to the New York Times, a state-run media network reported that “The detained U.S. Marines, after it was realized that their entry into Iran’s territorial waters was unintentional, and after the Marines apologized, were released into international waters in the Persian Gulf.”

He added in a speech later in the day at the National Defense University, “I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago. In fact, it is clear that today this kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and efficiently resolved and that is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong.”

The two patrol boats coming from Kuwait were reportedly dealing with mechanical problems, and may have accidentally drifted into Iranian waters. They were detained at Farsi Island after Iranian officials freaked out and thought the sailors were engaging in "unprofessional behavior." However, according to NBC News, Navy chief General Ali Fadavi later conceded on TV, "It was not for espionage or other harmful purposes."

The U.S. Navy, which is investigating how this whole thing happened, says, “There are no indications that the sailors were harmed during their brief detention.” Released photos show they mostly appeared to have suffered from boredom.

Photo: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

Iran, on the other hand, appeared happy to gloat about the episode a bit, judging from the news clips below, which were filmed yesterday and not in the ’80s.

The incident happened as the nuclear deal continues to go into effect — economic sanctions could start being lifted this week. Unsurprisingly, many critics of the Iran deal used this moment to criticize it.

Conservatives also made note of a report from Iran that said Kerry has apologized for the incident — something the State Department quickly said was not true.

Senator Tom Cotton, who wrote a letter to Iran last year reminding its leaders that Republican legislators would still be around when Obama’s term was completed, was also very upset. 

President Obama did not mention the sailors during his State of the Union address last night — not even, as Slate points out, to applaud the conflict’s quick resolution. He also didn’t mention the U.S. citizens currently imprisoned in Iran. The brother of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was watching the speech in the House chambers as the guest of Representative Jared Huffman. Rami Kurdi — whose brother-in-law, former Marine Amir Hekmati, was also imprisoned on espionage charges — was also at the State of the Union, watching with his wife, Hekmati’s sister. He told NPR, "We would love to hear Amir’s name. Amir served his country honorably. He’s a decorated Marine. We’d love to hear that every effort’s being made for Amir and, least of which, that he’s mentioned."

A few weeks ago, U.S. military commanders accused Iran of firing rockets not too far away from an American aircraft carrier and several other ships. The ships were given 23 seconds of warning. One Navy spokesperson said, “Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional, and inconsistent with international maritime law.”

The U.S. has considered sanctioning Iran for its recent ballistic-missile tests — punishments that would not affect the nuclear agreement. Senator Chris Coons told The Hill earlier this week he’s not sure what’s taking so long. “I don’t know why the administration has hesitated, but I am urging them publicly and privately to move ahead with those designations,” he said. Unsurprisingly, Iran has called any possible sanctions “illegal meddling.”

Back in 2007, Iran captured 15 Royal Navy sailors and marines after accusing them of entering their waters — and kept them for nearly two weeks. Then–prime minister Tony Blair was angered by the fact that the hostages were forced to go on TV and apologize for their actions, saying, “Nobody should be put in that position in terms of basic humanity.”

U.S. Sailors Detained in Iran Freed