US soldiers in Iranian waters
US soldiers are seen on their knees after Iran captured two boats it said stayed into Iranian watersICRG

Iranian state media have released new images of the moment that 10 US sailors were captured by Iran's navy after their boat strayed into the Islamic Republic's territorial waters in the Persian Gulf.

The pictures show the ten sailors on their knees on the deck of the boat with hands clasped behind their heads, while others show their captured guns and equipment. The release of the photos is being seen by critics as an attempt by Tehran to capitalise on popular anti-American sentiment despite Iran's improved relations with the US over the past 12 months.

The boats entered Iranian territorial waters on Tuesday night (12 January) by accident, the US has claimed, and were quickly released by the Iranians. US Secretary of State John Kerry apologised to his counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif for the mistake. The White House later said it had been assured of the sailors' safety.

Iran's Republican Guard later broadcast a statement on Iranian state television saying it had freed the US sailors and explained they had been released into international waters. In the wake of the incident, anti-Iran figures in the US and elsewhere took to social media to argue that Tehran's actions were evidence that President Barack Obama's relationship with Iran was a mistake.

While Iran has agreed to halt its nuclear programme as part of the P5 + 1 deal with the US and EU in return for a lifting of sanctions, the deal has been controversial in both the US and the Islamic Republic. While Iran's young, cosmopolitan population have largely welcomed the deal, Tehran has had to appease hard-liners who reject any form of engagement with America.

As a result, even as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif was meeting with US Secretary John Kerry and other leaders last year, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was taking to Twitter to denounce the US and its leadership as liars and cowards. That dual role of quiet diplomacy and fiery rhetoric have also been at play during this week's crisis.