Leading article: We must not let Iran profit from its provocative acts

A measured response will embarrass a regime seeking confrontation

Share
Related Topics

This is a dangerous moment in Iranian-British relations. The arrest of local staff working at the British embassy in Tehran is shocking but should not altogether surprise us. When authoritarian regimes feel cornered, they go for the jugular. Unwilling to take on the Great Satan of America, Tehran smartly picks on the mini-Satan of Britain; an easier, lower-risk target. At the same time, fights with Britain still have a real historic resonance in Iran. Distrust of the British as interfering imperialists is practically written into the country's DNA, fortified by memories of Britain's role in the coup against the popular Mossadeq government in the early 1950s and the rise of the Shah.

The weight of this historic baggage poses dilemmas to the Government as it struggles to respond in a manner that is appropriate and does not look craven, but which does not ratchet up the dispute unnecessarily. Firm condemnation of what looks like an act of petty vindictiveness must not be accompanied with a side serving of shrill and implausible threats.

One reason for such caution is that the Iranian government's motives and goals in this affair are transparent. Diminished in their eyes of their own people by the protests that followed the disputed presidential election, the rattled authorities have an interest in trying to re-unite their fractured country through a nationalist crusade against foreign meddlers.

This is a crucial time for them, as the opposition's will-power to continue contesting the election results flags and as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory awaits formal confirmation by the Guardian Council. Tehran would feel its strategy had been amply vindicated if careless words or gestures on Britain's part caused the dispute to spiral upwards, further confusing the opposition and making it easier for the regime to smear them as the dupes of the enemy.

Our experience of diplomatic rows with the regime in Zimbabwe is instructive here, even if only as a salutary warning about how not to proceed. Trading accusations about human rights with Robert Mugabe did little or nothing to help the embattled opposition there, or the farmers facing eviction from their land; it may have made their position worse while leaving us with even less diplomatic leverage than before. That does not mean that we should do nothing about these arrests. It means that we must try to co-ordinate every response in close concert with our allies, especially with countries such as France and Germany that have better relations with Tehran than we do. We should not hesitate to sound out Russia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is no close ally but he has considerable traction among Tehran's rulers, evidenced by Ahmadinejad's recent trip to Moscow.

One other way that Britain can respond to Tehran's bellicosity is by continuing the battle for hearts and minds through the BBC. After only six months on air, the Persian service has been a resounding success, drawing thousands of emails daily and millions of viewers. That the regime appears desperate to block the BBC from reaching Iranian audiences tells much about what British weapons they really fear.

Meanwhile, we must not let Tehran feel its strategy of deliberate provocations is paying a dividend. Let our cool heads embarrass their synthetic display of hysteria. If they then choose to accelerate this dispute even further, it will be clearer to most Iranians, and to the world, which side is angling for a fight – and why.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Clean energy should be our mission to the moon

Martin Rees
Angela Merkel and David Cameron say goodbye in the Bundeskanzleramt after their meeting in Berlin, Germany, 29 May 2015  

The complacency of Europhiles could lose them the referendum

Steve Richards
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral