Iran clings to its old violent ways: Few doubt Tehran is behind several attacks on Rushdie's publishers, writes Charles Richards, Middle East Editor

THE ARABS have a long literature warning of the deviousness of their Persian neighbours. 'They are a people of cunning and deceit' is as common as the Virgilian admonition to beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

So when Iranian diplomats launched one of their periodic charm offensives a few weeks ago warning bells were immediately set off. The diplomats who approached the Independent had one issue to discuss: the case of Salman Rushdie, whose publisher in Norway was shot and wounded yesterday. Moderates and pragmatists on all sides agree that for political and technical reasons the fatwa against Rushdie cannot be rescinded. But for all practical purposes it can be considered to have lapsed.

More radical elements in the Iranian establishment, from the spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, downwards, have reiterated their calls for the persecution of Rushdie.

Government circles, however, have been at pains to distance themselves from what they present as an issue that does not have government backing. Such protestations must be treated with caution. Tehran insists that the bonyad or religious institution which placed the dollars 2m (pounds 1.3m) bounty on Rushdie's head is independent. Yet its directors are all appointed by the government.

Few doubt that the fingers of Tehran's very long hands have been meddling in a succession of attacks on publishers and translators of Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, from Tokyo to Milan to Ankara. Iran has also been behind assassinations of Iranian dissidents outside Iran.

And throughout the Arab world, Iran's hand is seen behind attempts by Islamic groups to destabilise the existing order. Egypt has accused Iran of stirring up Islamic extremists bent on toppling the government - an accusation for which it has furnished no evidence. And Iran continues to sponsor Palestinian and Lebanese groups opposed to accommodation with Israel.

Gulf strategists have expressed concern at Iran's rearmament programme, though it has not replaced the hardware destroyed in its war with Iraq. Greater foreboding stems from attempts, so far unsuccessful, by Iran to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

So if Iranian diplomats are actively promoting the idea that their country is quietly trying to forget about Rushdie, why should an attack be mounted at this time on his Norwegian publisher when the trail will, rightly or wrongly, lead to Tehran? What is the evidence of the reorientation of foreign policy by a more pragmatic President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani?

Iran's foreign policy, for all the rhetoric of its leaders, is not directed at any enemy, whether the 'Great Satan' in Washington, the old enemy Iraq or the 'decadent' kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Foreign policy is centred on Opec, on maintaining as high a price for Iranian oil as possible. For Iran needs every cent. It has a rapidly rising population, which has to be fed, housed and given jobs. The economy has been liberalised over the past couple of years, yet investment in productive industry remains limited, and the country relies heavily on imports.

By the same token, Western countries are keen to exploit opportunities in the lucrative Iranian market. For that reason, the major Western countries are prepared to forgive Iran its misdemeanours. So Iran will continue to conduct foreign policy in often violent ways with relative impunity.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones