Earlier this month, the International Herald Tribune carried a story about how a unit of the Swiss Army had recently "invaded" Liechtenstein. The Swiss, if you didn't already know, are known more for their neutrality, chocolate, and little utility knives with corkscrews than their aggressiveness. So it had to be a mistake.
And so it was - they'd gotten lost in the dark, on maneuvers. The Swiss pulled out with Liechtenstein none the wiser, and actually called the next day to apologize. Liechtenstein magnanimously forgave them.
Here's a report on it (the IHT version is now unavailable): http://www.cbc.ca/world/story
Let's play devil's advocate for a minute. Let's say that those British sailors captured by Iran had accidentally been on the wrong side of the territorial demarcation line. What would a responsible member of the international community – something Iran likes to portray itself as being – do in response to such a relatively minor violation like that?
The boundaries of the waterway in question are in dispute between Iraq and Iran; if a mistake had been made in navigation, it likely would have been accidental. A simple apology, especially one like the Iranians staged, should have sufficed. Had it been an honest mistake on the U.K.'s part, Iranian pride should have been assuaged.
In any case, the United Kingdom has radar evidence that shows its sailors kept to Iraqi territorial waters, where a U.N. resolution permits them to be. The United States Navy, unsurprisingly, corroborates the Royal Navy account. The Indian-flagged ship that was inspected before the Britons were kidnapped knew it was in Iraqi waters.
If anyone should apologize, it's the Iranians.
Russia did not help today by being wishy-washy on the text of a draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council. If Moscow is indeed as anxious for a peaceful end to the stand-off as it says it is, a different tack begged for the taking. France, for its part, did well by Britain in summoning Tehran's ambassador to Paris and demanding the release of the hostages.
I'm waiting to see who blinks first.