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and pragmatists on all sides agree that for political and technical reasons the fatwa against Rushdie cannot be rescinded.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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
News
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
scienceBumping fists rather than shaking hands could reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it is claimed
Sport
Mario Balotelli posed for this selfie during AC Milan's 5-1 defeat to Manchester City
sport
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + ents
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Sport
sport
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

M&E Construction Planner Solihull

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Healthcare, Pensions: Progressive Recruitment...

Senior Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Leading Sof...

Chemistry Teacher

£90 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried