Paul Vallely: War on Iran has begun. And it is madness

The parallels with Iraq are disturbing: we are convinced of a sinister threat to the West and we have a dodgy dossier to prove it

Share
Related Topics

One of the more embarrassing features of the internet is that, from time to time, I find myself being confused with a namesake. Paul E Vallely is not me. He is a retired US major-general who is now the senior military analyst for Rupert Murdoch's outrageously right-wing Fox News. Among other things, he wants to bomb Iran, which I decidedly do not.

There is something deeply disquieting about the deterioration in relationships between the West and Iran in recent days. William Hague was well within existing protocol to expel all Iran's diplomats from Britain after a mob sacked the British embassy in Tehran. But what is proper is not always wise.

Paranoia has long characterised Anglo-Iranian relations. An old Persian proverb warns: "If you trip over a stone in the road, it was put there by an Englishman." 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, so much that when he was elected President, another Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Kham-enei, talked about the British as "the most evil" of diplomats. In 2009, the BBC World Service Persian channel so annoyed Tehran that anyone interviewed on it was harassed or arrested. During the post-election protests that year a member of the British embassy's Iranian staff was jailed. For the past year, Iran has had no ambassador in London and has failed to explain the vacancy.

So Britain taking the lead in international opinion against Tehran's nuclear programme – arguing that its goal is not nuclear fuel but nuclear weapons – is perceived in Iran in the context of a long history of British perfidy. London is seen as an intelligence-gathering 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".

It was the Little Interventionist Tony Blair who first began sanctions on Iran. And 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. It relies on documents on a laptop, found in 2004 by the Israelis, whose reliability prompted deep scepticism among Western intelligence at the time. The foreign scientist said to have worked on a bomb with the Iranians turned out to be a nanotechnologist. And a former IAEA chief inspector has said the type of explosion chamber referred to in the report could not be used in a nuclear test.

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.

But Iran is a big, politically sophisticated country whose constitution of parliament, president, councils and assemblies of religious experts, creates a system of checks and balances in which change is possible. Reformers have held sway at times in this political pluralism. The Iranian establishment is fragmented into factions; a third of MPs did not vote for the measure to reduce the diplomatic status of Iran's relations with Britain last Sunday. But it is precisely the wrong reactionary factions which are strengthened by the bellicosity of the West.

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. The UK's decision to freeze $1.6bn of Iranian assets – which is what provoked the violence at the British embassy – was the fourth round of sanctions. Hawks like my military namesake talk openly of deploying unmanned drones against nuclear power stations and provoking an uprising against the government in Tehran. And now comes all the EU sound and fury about not bowing "to 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.) Last week, the EU reached agreement in principle to impose an oil embargo on Iran. But it delayed any detailed decision to mid-January in order to allow countries including Italy, Spain and Greece – which import large amounts of Iranian oil – the time to find alternative supplies from Saudi Arabia or Libya.

But what if Iran were to turn the tables and cut off oil to Europe, concentrating on its massive sales to India and China? With Europe already in fiscal turmoil, that could create another oil shock on the scale of those in the 1970s, which deflated the global economy, triggered a stock market crash, caused inflation to soar and led to a wave of unemployment that toppled governments.

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.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Simon Laird (left) and Sister Simon Laird, featured in the BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets  

Estates of the nation: Let's hear it for the man in the street

Simmy Richman
Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in The Honourable Woman  

Women wait for the call: This week's reshuffle is David Cameron's chance to act on his one-third pledge

Jane Merrick
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?