Could the volcanic ash cloud currently paralyzing Britain's air traffic and exacting a heavy economic toll on the country be Iceland's latest strike in a curious and long-running spate of hostilities between the Viking republic and Her Majesty's Government?
For two NATO allies, Iceland and the United Kingdom have engaged in some pretty nasty spats over the years. As recently as October 2008, London invoked rarely used anti-terrorist legislation to seize Icelandic companies‚ property in Britain in a bid to compensate British savers who had lost $5 billion placed with collapsed Icelandic banks.
That move drew the wrath of then-Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde, who termed it an "unfriendly act," and approached Russia for an emergency loan, sparking fears of all sorts of geostrategic shenanigans in the frozen north.
Though Reykjavik did agree to repay the British government all the money it had spent compensating UK savers, Icelandic voters rejected the deal in a referendum last month. British Treasury Minister Alistair Darling has acknowledged it might take years to get Iceland to cough up.
Just as the cloud of abrasive dust from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano poses an unseen threat, tens of thousands of feet into the air, the so-called Cod Wars of the mid-20th century – which at one point saw the use of live ammunition – were fought far from the public eye.
Over the course of nearly two decades, until 1976, Britain and Iceland fought three sporadic Cod Wars in the North Atlantic, as British military vessels intervened to protect British trawlers whose nets Icelandic patrol boats were cutting in disputed waters.
Britain lost that war, eventually conceding Iceland's right to preserve its fisheries inside an expanded economic zone. Iceland lost the financial battle two years ago, agreeing to pay London back the money British savers had seen go up in smoke – even if that deal is now in doubt.
The latest salvo of abrasive dust and smoke, however, is probably a victory only for nature. Unless, of course it is Iceland's revenge on my family. My brother commanded a Royal Navy fisheries protection vessel in the mid-1970s. My flight home to Beijing tonight has been canceled.