Iran has emerged with a measure of strength from its standoff with Britain, deflecting attention from its disputed nuclear program and proving it can cause trouble in the Middle East when it chooses, analysts said.
Yet the country's hardline leaders also shied away from all-out confrontation with the West, backing down once they had flexed their power, apparently worried they might go too far.
In that way, the standoff proved one thing above all else: Iran's internal decision-making process remains largely mysterious to the West.
Split between ultra-hardline and more moderate factions, the Iranian government moved back and forth on the seizures, sending mixed messages until suddenly, startlingly, announcing on Wednesday that it would free the 15 sailors.
Whether that is a sign of internal dissent in Iran or finely honed, clever brinkmanship, Iran clearly gained some respect from the dispute, at least enough to make the West cautious that the Islamic government would be willing to dive into such a tussle again.
"It allowed the Iranians to demonstrate that they can't be trifled with. They have a capacity to take action, and that will undoubtedly make people more careful," said James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan who now heads military analysis for the RAND Corp think-tank in the United States.
That could affect the aggressiveness of future British navy patrols in the Persian Gulf near Iraq. It also could affect any future actions by US military forces inside Iraq.
(China Daily via agencies April 6, 2007)