Paul Vallely Independent/UK 4 Dec. 2011
British memories may stretch back to 1989 when Iran's then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued his fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie for his blasphemous novel The Satanic Verses. But Persian memories are longer still.
It was MI6, along with the CIA, which orchestrated the overthrow in 1953 of the popular, democratically elected, secular prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. He had brought about major social reforms but had also had the temerity to nationalise the petroleum company which became BP. Through the Sixties and Seventies, Britain backed the Shah of Iran, a man whose regime rested on secret police and torture but who was seen as a plausible counterweight to Soviet influence.
And so it continued. Britain consistently backed the wrong leader. We favoured Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war. We derided the reactionary mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. For the past year, Iran has had no ambassador in London and has failed to explain the vacancy. Britain taking the lead in international opinion against Tehran's nuclear programme is perceived in Iran in the context of a long history of British perfidy. London is seen as a stooge for Washington, which has no embassy in Tehran. Britain is "the Little Satan" in contrast to the United States, which is "the Great Satan".
The build-up of hostilities has unnerving parallels with the case for war conjured by Blair and George Bush against Iraq. We have another dodgy dossier, in the shape of the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which claims Iran is developing nuclear weapons but says so largely on the basis of intelligence which ends in 2003. On that is based hawkish noises and sabre-rattling sanctions.
Intelligence chiefs publicly say such things as, the West must use covert operations to sabotage Iran's nuclear programme. Politicians make thinly veiled threats of military attack using weasel words such as "all options are on the table". Pardon me if it feels like Iraq all over again.
Of course, some political leaders in Tehran do want the bomb. It is not hard to understand why. Everyone else in the region has one – Israel, Pakistan, India and Russia. US nuclear weapons have Tehran within range. And make no mistake, the war has begun. Virulent computer viruses disabled Iran's nuclear centrifuges last year. Two of the nation's leading nuclear physicists have been assassinated, and a third was wounded by assassins on motorbikes. Hawks talk openly of deploying unmanned drones against nuclear power stations and provoking an uprising against the government in Tehran. Now comes all the EU sound and fury about ‘Iran's intimidation and bullying". The hollow laughter from Tehran reflects heightened nationalist resolution and increased hostility to the West.
What is needed is the opposite. Instead of feeding a siege mentality in Tehran we should find ways of keeping open the engagement through trade and cultural exchange as Washington does with Pakistan, whose nuclear weapons appear to have provoked no threats of US attack.
There is another consideration. Iran is the world's second-largest producer of oil and gas. (Which does make you wonder why it needs to exercise its "inalienable right" to produce nuclear fuel.) What if Iran were to turn the tables and cut off oil to Europe, concentrating on its massive sales to India and China? Or Tehran might announce a selective oil embargo against Britain, France and Germany – leaving its biggest clients in southern Europe untouched. The markets have already anticipated this: oil went up by $2 in a day after the storming of the British embassy, and oil futures are up 4 per cent on the week.
This rush to madness could backfire terribly in so many ways. If we had as long an historical memory as the Iranians we would know that.