Anglo-Iranian relations face new low: AKA spooks on a plane

by | Jun 26, 2009

In the light of ongoing events in Iran (which sadly seem to be in danger of being utterly overshadowed by the other thing), various commentators have been focusing on why exactly it is that the regime reserves its greatest hatred for Britain? Surely America is the ‘great satan’? Why are we taking the flak all of a sudden? Of course, it’s historical. You can look at pretty much any world trouble spot, rogue state or basket case, and find the legacy of the British Empire behind it somehow. The BBC reports that:

It depends on how far back you want to go.

You could go back to 1813 and the Treaty of Gulistan, under which Persia was forced to concede territory to Russia. The treaty was put together by British diplomat Sir Gore Ouseley and is regarded as a humiliation in Iran.

The myth – or reality – of the devious British was established.

Britain was also instrumental in setting Iran’s borders with India in the 1860s.

Then in the 1920s, British forces in Iran under General Edmund Ironside (later British land forces commander in World War II after Dunkirk) helped put Reza Shah on the Peacock throne. His son was Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah overthrown in the Islamic revolution of 1979, so there is a direct link back to British actions decades ago.

British support for the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 also provides plentiful cause for suspicion, as does the memory of 1953’s Operation Ajax coup.

Of course, the Iranian regime hardly helps matters. For one thing, the British Embassy in Tehran is located near to the aptly named ‘Bobby Sands Street‘. On Monday, British diplomats in Iran were asked to leave the country. The standard diplomatic response to such provocation has always been the productive method of… doing the exact same thing back to them. That’s what’s known as a proportional response. Or an eye for an eye, if you prefer.

Also on Monday, the authorities in Tehran asked the BBC’s Jon Leyne to leave the country. Additionally, the BBC’s Persian network has been blocked in Iran, leading Auntie to use new satellites in order to maintain the service. (As an aside, I would suggest the BBC’s coverage of the election crisis has not been entirely impartial. While the Corporation, technically speaking, has not favoured either side, I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable to suggest that there is a detectable-if unspoken-tendency to favour Mousavi. But who amongst us could blame them?) Let’s not forget the Revolutionary Guards’ seizure of British sailors in 2007, a low point in Anglo-Iranian relations.

There is no sign that the conflict will abate any time soon. Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech last week featured the following statement:

Just observe the hands of the enemy. They are hungry wolves ambushing and removing the diplomacy [sic] cover from their faces. Don’t underestimate them. I will tell you, diplomats of other countries in the past few days have taken away their masks and [are] showing their true image. The most evil of them all is the British Government.

The Supreme Leader chose not to elaborate. Building on this, according to The Times:

In what must rank as one of the most idiotic statements made by a serving Foreign Minister of an Iranian Government, Mr Mottaki charged that “they [the British Government] sent planes full of passengers to Iran with special intelligence and security ambitions”, providing as evidence of this apparent deluge of spies, the observation that “they had to turn the small flights to Tehran from the UK into Boeing 747 airliners”.

MI6 subtlety FAIL.

UPDATE: (28/06/09) The Iranian authorities have now arrested nine British Embassy staff.


  • Avatar

    Andrew Pickering is studying for an MA in International Political Economy. He blogs at <a href="">From Davos to Seattle</a>.

More from Global Dashboard

Our COVID Future: The Long Crisis Scenarios

Our COVID Future: The Long Crisis Scenarios

Created in partnership with: COVID-19 marks a turning point in the 21st century.​ Levels of uncertainty are off the chart, making predictions impossible. ​But if we can create plausible stories about different futures, we create a...

Protecting our Critical Global Infrastructure

Protecting our Critical Global Infrastructure

Earlier this week, we published Shooting the Rapids – COVID-19 and the Long Crisis of Globalisation. In the final section, we present a plan for collective action at the global level with four elements:  Firefight better – getting the emergency response...