Iran’s 1953 coup: A nation interrupted

Iranian oil was indispensable in lubricating the allied war machine and when the Iranian parliament voted in 1951 to nationalise their own resource out of the hands of the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), the fate of Mohammed Mossadeq was apparently sealed. According to Kinzer, British diplomats in Washington trying to persuade Eisenhower to back a coup argued, in addition to the obvious gambit that there was a threat of Soviet encroachment via an expanded Tudeh party, that the oil nationalisation would cost the British exchequer 100 million pound per annum. This figure was the amount in royalties paid by the Anglo-Iranian oil company and does not include their own profits – a mere 16% of which was given to Iran under the terms of the D’Arcy concession.

Mossadeq explained his nationalization policy in a 21 June 1951 speech:

“Our long years of negotiations with foreign countries have yielded no results this far. With the oil revenues we could meet our entire budget and combat poverty, disease, and backwardness among our people. Another important consideration is that by the elimination of the power of the British company, we would also eliminate corruption and intrigue, by means of which the internal affairs of our country have been influenced. Once this tutelage has ceased, Iran will have achieved its economic and political independence. The Iranian state prefers to take over the production of petroleum itself. The company should do nothing else but return its property to the rightful owners. The nationalization law provide that 25% of the net profits on oil be set aside to meet all the legitimate claims of the company for compensation”.

Tensions escalated from here with the British government threatening legal action against purchasers of oil produced in the formerly AIOC-controlled refineries. Agreements were then made with other international oil companies not to purchase Iranian oil, a de facto blockade was reinforced as Britain beefed up its presence in the Persian Gulf, Iran was blocked from accessing its hard currency in British banks, key British commodities were prohibited from being exported and a complaint was finally issued by them to the United Nations. This latter action concluded in a humiliating diplomatic defeat for the British as the UN Security Council having heard the case presented by both Mossadeq and the British ambassador to the UN voted on October 19th, 1951 to postpone discussion of the question to a certain day or indefinitely’.

However, this success was short-lived as the following week’s discussions in Washington with the World Bank and US officials failed to secure any relief for the Iranian economy.

In late 1951 elections were brought to an abrupt halt when the minimum number of deputies had been returned to achieve a parliamentary quorum with Mossadeq asserting that foreign agents’ had been exploiting the election campaign with bribes to destabilize Iran. In July 1952, with Iranians becomingly increasingly hard-pressed by a devastatingly effective blockade the Royal Navy intercepted the Italian oil tanker Rose Mary and forced it into the British protectorate of Aden on the grounds that it was carrying ‘stolen property’.

Clearly the best men in Iran were opposed to such blatant thievery and for their support of Mossadeq and nationalisation they were later hounded out of office and subjected to a brutal crackdown as and when the Shah was reinstated. They had to wait 25yrs before they could get their chance to reverse this enforced coup d’etat and by that time the clerics had the upper hand purely because the temples, madrassas and other religious outlets were the only public spaces left unsolicited by the secret police.

When Madeleine Albright, who in 2000 became the first US official to even acknowledge that there was CIA involvement in the 1954 coup, characterised it as a setback for democracy’ it made you wonder at the time whether there were white kites in the offing between Tehran and Washington – until you realised of course that it was Clinton’s last month in office and they were evidently passing that particular hot potato to the Gore camp should he prevail.

For all the talk of Obama sitting down without preconditions you may wonder at the old disaffected Mossadeq supporters and their political lineage; are they not entitled to an apology, an explanation, an acknowledgement at least of hardships endured? And, like most people most everywhere I felt a warm glow of contentment as I watched President Obama taking the oath of office but when he asks the Muslim world to stop blaming ‘the West’ for its problems you have to wonder how comprehensive is his understanding of the Middle East.

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Did Ahmadinejad really say he wished to “wipe Israel off the map”?

Factoid (n) : “A piece of unverified or inaccurate information that is presented in the press as factual, often as part of a publicity effort, and that is then accepted as true because of frequent repetition.” – Answers.com

The assertion the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wished to “wipe Israel off the map” is the official candidate for factoid of the millenium. In an era of total information recall it is astounding that this absolute and utter fabrication has received and continues to command so much mileage on the information superhighway. The “wipe Israel off the map” attribution is a deliberately propagandistic mistranslation of an Ahmadinejad speech whose repetition corresponds more to the wish-fulfillment of political hawks than any observed reality. What is more, a 10yr old with internet access and a modicum of journalistic savvy would be able to tell you this.

On October 25th, 2005 at the Ministry of Interior conference hall in Tehran, newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a speech at a conference entitled “The World Without Zionism.” It was in this speech that he quoted the words of the late Ayatollah Khomeini which were fated to be not only mistranslated but falsely attributed to him. The exact quote in Farsi is as follows:

“Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.”

As every Farsi scholar whose opinion has been solicited has subsequently declared this passage is most accurately translated word for word as follows; “Imam (Khomeini) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e (regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az safheh-ye ruzgar (from page of time) mahv shavad (vanish from)”.

Or, to put it more clearly; “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” There is obviously a vast difference between calling for a nation, people or country to be wiped from the face of the earth – basically an act of genocide – and the call for the end of an ideology associated with a particular regime.

Neither Ahmadinejad (nor Khomeini) wanted anything ‘wiped from the map’ because the Persian word for map “nagsheh” is not contained anywhere in the original Farsi quote. In the context of the argument which Ahmadinejad was putting forth he says that the “Zionist regime” was imposed as a strategic bridgehead to ensure Western hegemony over the region and its assets. Whether or not you agree with his historical analysis you cannot go on to aver based on this evidence alone that he is calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.

He is simply borrowing approvingly from Khomeini a quote to reinforce his argument that an aggressive, non-accommodating Israeli regime which repeatedly tramples on Palestinian rights must surely vanish from the page of time’. He goes on to bolster his case by saying that other seemingly invincible regimes have since collapsed and crumbled; the Soviet Union, the Iran of the U.S. backed Shah and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

It was in fact the Islamic Republic News Agency who reported from the “World without Zionism” conference who were responsible for the inflammatory “wiped off the map” misquote and this line, which made such good copy, was gleefully picked up by all the major Western outlets such as Al Jazeera, Time, CNN and the BBC without any attempt to doublecheck its accuracy. The mistranslated quote has since been spread worldwide and has been repeated ad infinitum by journalists, broadcasters, pundits and politicians usually as a preamble to justifying further sanctions and calling for an end to the Iranian nuclear enrichment programme. President Bush said the comments represented “a specific threat to Israel” and in a speech in Cleveland in March 2006 vowed he would resort to war to protect Israel because, “the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our ally Israel.”

An October 2006 memo released by the Israeli lobby group AIPAC warns that; “Ahmadinejad and other top Iranian leaders are issuing increasingly belligerent statements threatening to destroy the United States, Europe and Israel.” Ariel Sharon has demanded that Iran be expelled from the UN for calling for Israel’s destruction and Shimon Peres has threatened to wipe Iran off the map. Benjamin Netanyahu went a step further by warning that Iran was “preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state” and that Ahmadinejad should be tried for war crimes for inciting genocide.

Tony Blair meanwhile expressed his “revulsion” whilst mooting the possibility that it might be necessary to attack Iran. As recently as the presidential debates both John McCain and Sarah Palin repeated the misquote as justification for not sitting down for talks “without preconditions” with the Iranian leadership. Neither of them were subsequently corrected by either Joe Biden or Barack Obama whom we must assume either agreed with their assessment or were unaware that the quote was falsely attributed or were aware but simply didn’t wish to seem too dove-like given their position on troop withdrawal from Iraq.

It is difficult to believe that with the resources at their disposal these politicians were unaware that the “wipe Israel off the map” quote was falsely attributed and taken out of context and yet they are happy to feed the myth themselves by repeating the falsehood on every available occasion. We need to keep a close eye on this factoid. A politician’s willingness to repeat it is a useful barometer of the truth – if and when the war drums begin to beat again.

“Hope” for the Middle East?

Obviously its early days yet but it should be clear to everyone that the US is not the same player it has been traditionally now that we have an Obama administration. What exactly those differences are, whether they are strong enough to actually make a renewed peace process’ viable, the coming weeks and months will decide. Obama’s decision, for instance, to make entreaties on the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel to renew diplomatic relations with the Iranians has been viewed by the wider Arab and Muslim world as a positive step that bodes well for any future negotiations.

Also, Obama’s appointment of George Mitchell as peace envoy. Being an Arabic- speaking son of a Lebanese immigrant with a good track record of listening’ has to be a plus here, along with his role in brokering successful peace talks in Northern Ireland. This, coupled with the fact that he has already headed a commission whose report identified the key difficulty; Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I know it doesn’t take a mastermind to figure that one out but how many times has this been explicitly acknowledged and foregrounded on the American side; apart from Carter.

The question you have to ask yourself is whether Hamas are providing any room for dialogue. Is there anything in what they are saying that provides an entry point for mediating parties? We all know about the fiery rhetoric of their Charter and varied translations do little to dampen it – it belongs to a species of polemics that has one foot in this world, one in the next.

But the fact of the matter is that the Hamas leadership has distanced itself more and more from the Charter – without actually abandoning it – particularly since the 06 elections. Its jihadist authors have already been executed by Israel (the paraplegic Yassin blown to smithereens in his wheelchair along with a dozen innocents outside a Gazan mosque 5yrs ago) and new leader Meshal has confirmed repeatedly his readiness to recognise Israel if the ‘two-state solution’ with pre-67 borders is put on the table. Neither is this the watered-down two-stater proposed by Ehud Barak with separate Jewish cantons and control over water resources which led to the unravelling of the Camp David Accords.

According to Khaled Hroub (author of ‘Hamas: Political Thought and Practice’) the concept of the two-state solution is now the cornerstone of Hamas’ thinking. “I doubt we will see the old Hamas again” he says. Why does he say this? Because Meshal and the other leaders have been saying things like the following for the last four years;

“Our message to the Israelis is this: we do not fight you because you belong to a certain faith or culture. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for 13 centuries in peace and harmony; they are in our religion “the people of the book” who have a covenant from God and His Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) to be respected and protected. Our conflict with you is not religious but political” (07)

“We shall never recognise the right of any power to rob us of our land and deny us our national rights. We shall never recognise the legitimacy of a Zionist state created on our soil in order to atone for somebody else’s sins or solve somebody else’s problem. But if you are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce, we are prepared to negotiate the terms. Hamas is extending a hand of peace to those who are truly interested in a peace based on justice.” (06)

“If Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders and recognised the rights of the Palestinian people – including the right of those in the diaspora to return to their land and to East Jerusalem and to dismantle the settlements – Hamas can then state its position and possibly give a long-term truce with Israel, as Sheikh Yassin said. This is a position that Hamas could take but only after Israel recognises the right of the Palestinians, to show and confirm its willingness to withdraw to the 1967 borders.” (08)

There is more than enough leverage in the above for a dedicated team committed to a workable solution to make real progress. What I see at the moment is the possibility of some sort of renewed alliance between Fatah and Hamas. Egypt are currently hosting talks to try and bring this about and Mahmoud Abbas must be seen to play ball here else he is in danger of being toppled from within. Fatah received a negative backlash from Muslims across the region over their weak responses to the recent Israeli incursion/massacre and will be anxious to clean their bib in the eyes of their peers. He has already been heard recently being critical of last year’s accelerated expansion of Israeli settlements – something that he was loathe to do beforehand for fear of being cut from the loop. Many US and European diplomats have already conceded that Hamas will have to be talked to eventually, for instance James Baker, and the recent events in Gaza, in fact, have been a disaster for the Israeli publicity machine.

Even the Council on Foreign Relations concede that the Hamas majority in the elections was secured because of their perceived lack of corruption and greater commitment to funding for social programmes. What is an absurdity is the continual reality negation over Hamas legitimate claims to be representatives of the Palestinians. Simply wishing they didn’t win it or that their programme of resistance isn’t more popular among ordinary Palestinians than watching what must appear to them to be the fawning obeisance of Fatah preside over the further dismantling of their territory is just the purest self-delusion.

Admittedly, their funders in turn will have to get flexible on Sharia and their claims over East Jerusalem but their position on the Zionist entity’s’ right to exist’ is predicated on Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank – an internationally agreed upon illegal occupation – which to Hamas is justification for any and all hostilities. Remove the forces of occupation along with the settlements and they are ready to conduct dialogue. This is their position and Khaled Mashal has repeated it often enough to make you wonder why the assertion continues to be regurgitated that they are unconditionally committed to the destruction of Israel irrespective of what gestures and concessions it makes. This position only suits hawks of every hue and persuasion including those on the Israeli side who don’t wish to see any dismantling of West Bank settlements.

So the US need no longer be viewed as an obstacle to progress by the Palestinians. If its policy makers instead of continually referring to an increasingly defunct founding document instead focused on what possibilities exist for dialogue then we may be in a position at last to debate the merits of peacekeepers – they have to have a peace to keep first though.

A Neverending Holocaust

The unconscious has a timeless, pulsatile function and if you were to ask what is a prevailing cause of crisis in this troubled region I would say it is the Israeli mind itself – a mind which needs to be expunged of its darknesses. For the entire process of Holocaust remembrance, of continually revisiting the events both in their public and private lives has obviously had an incalculably strong – and deleterious impact.

There are painful, recurring modes of renewing this compact with fate and these are inevitably transmitted through the generations. A son must deal with the fathers anger at his own powerlessness, the fathers narrative of forcibly subjected shame will bear heavily on him – a virulent offspring will never allow himself to be condemned to the same shameful subjugation. In time, this cruel and vengeful seed from history has come to shape their political discourse and the child who has been beaten now wreaks his own peculiar havoc on the world.

And now, as I recall watching Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, declare a unilateral ceasefire in the midst of their adjudged successes in Gaza it occurs to me that their leadership are indeed in dire need of some form of collective therapy. For, if the deaths of over 400 children are commensurate with having achieved their “objectives and beyond” you may well ask yourself how much further into the abyss they can stare – or how far the rest of the world can afford to let them.

Too far by now, it seems, if the popular support for the incursion/massacre and the swing to the right in the polls is anything to go by. If we were wont to anthropomorphise and characterise Israel how removed would its relations with the Palestinians be from the actions of a common sociopath. Some accuse Israel of playing the Holocaust card to engender sympathy and bolster support but you have to ask what are the deeper imprints on the collective psyche of Dachau, Buchenwald and Auschwitz? Let’s be honest, this barely oedipalised child can’t resist any opportunity to throw its American toys around the Middle East kindergarten. And there is undoubtedly a disturbing remnant echoing the horrors of the gas chambers and their actions seem increasingly more like the acting out of a vicious return of the repressed.

Let’s not also forget that it was Israel who first broke the ceasefire with Hamas back in November which triggered their firing of Qassams into Sdirot and beyond. And of course, no policy maker on the Israeli side is going to respond seriously to the charge that their “considered response” to rockets from Gaza is motivated by unresolved personal issues derived from the Holocaust. These are questions that belong to a different domain from the stages in which politics is carried out. This is not to say they aren’t relevant.

Herder made a name for himself characterising peoples by their inherent ”genius” and Ruth Benedict did much the same in “‘Patterns of Culture””. It was a viable analytic tool in the social sciences until recently – at any event we are always wont to characterise the peculiarity of a people whose customs and manners are strange to us. I realise Zionism was many years in the making and did not emerge from Hitler’s death camps but we cannot ignore profound formative events in the shaping of a nations character.

Usually when a nation attains sovereignty it is achieved at the expense of a departed tyranny such as found in the cases of post-war decolonisation or with the overthrow of an autocratic monarchy. In the case of Israel this sovereignty was attained on the back of landgrabs and ruthless suppressions, something many young settlers were blissfully unaware of until they were of an age to learn of the injustices meted out by their forebears. There are by now too many uncomfortable similarities with the depravities of the Third Reich. The Gaza strip has been declared by many to be the world’s largest open-air concentration camp with the trade embargo having left most of the population below the poverty line. When they managed to tunnel underneath the Rafah crossing and fling open the barricades a third of the population swamped nearby Egyptian towns to stock up on bare necessities such as soap, fuel and water.

Within the stratified West Bank with all its demarcations and no-go zones, we have the harassment and monitoring of checkpoints, the production of identity cards, the continual marshalling from place to place – the intent it seems to ensure insecurity of domicile for the Palestinians. The occupied territories themselves often have the feel of a liminal ghost-like state within international law. Much like the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto must have felt like when they were being corralled and herded like cattle.

How can the form in which the settlements have taken here be construed as anything other than an inducement to rebellion and violence? The checkpoints have become less a deterrent for would be homicide bombers and more a means of brutally asserting internal regulation because the majority of them are between Palestinian controlled areas within the West Bank and not gateways to Israel itself. “Contiguity” is the current buzz word and the Israeli authorities have been trying to maintain unsuccessfully that this has been somehow achieved by the meandering snakes neck of a wall that loops appropriately here and there to embrace precious groundwater reservoirs and further cut off formerly integrated communities – a ‘Star of David’ form of apartheid if ever there was one.

Israel can now scarcely be conceived a credible state actor in any reasonable world.  Unfortunately, however, we do not appear to be living in one and if I was Hamas I dare say I’d throw everything I’ve got at them too.

Insanity is the only recourse in the face of their daily horror.

Wilson’s King-Crane Commission

It would be an understatement to say that the Arabs of Palestine were unanimously opposed to the establishment of either a Jewish state or of any large-scale immigration of Jews – or any peoples at all for that matter- into their region. They expressed as much consternation towards Zionism as the Irish for instance would today if the province of Leinster were cordoned off and declared the domain of Greater Nigeria. In fact, the 1917 Balfour Declaration made no mention of securing an Israeli state within Palestine only committing Britain to facilitate the establishment within Palestine of “a national home for the Jewish people” and then only on the condition that “nothing may be done which shall prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities ..” .

When Woodrow Wilson set up the King-Crane Commission in 1919 to investigate the feasibility of the Zionist project it reported that the independent nation of Palestine’ were emphatically opposed’ to the entire Zionist programme whilst the Zionists themselves “looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine” – which at the time comprised over 90% of the population. Correctly gauging the entire project to be ill-conceived from the onset it concluded by expressing “a deep sense of sympathy for the Jewish cause” but ultimately recommended the limitation of Jewish immigration and the abandonment of the goal of a Jewish state on the grounds that it would be “a gross violation of the principle of self-determination .. and of the people’s rights”.

The Commission was the only international study group ever charged with consulting the views of Palestinian Arabs on the Zionist question and could see clearly from reactions it received on the ground that the seeds for perpetual war would be sown if immigration proceeded apace. Its recommendations went largely ignored due in no small part to cloudy emotive reasoning such as evidenced by Balfour himself who in a moment of Shangri-La-ism declared that; “Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the ancient land.”

Wilson’s fourteen points and the much vaunted Covenant of the League of Nations went out the window under the British Mandate – along with Arab calls for autonomy and representative government. This is most clearly shown by the powerlessness of the indigenous Arab population to prevent the immigration of some 400,000 Jewish settlers between 1920 and 1945 – an influx considerably hastened, it may be added, by the anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia and Europe.

Nevertheless, the indigenous Arab population have always viewed this process as an enforced usurpation, an appraisal that David Ben Gurion himself acknowledged when he said in 1938 at the height of the Arab nationalist revolt; “in our political argument abroad, we minimize Arab opposition to us .. but let us not ignore the truth among ourselves . politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves the country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside”.  He went on to characterise the revolt as an active resistance by the Palestinians to what they regard as an “usurpation of their homeland by the Jews ”

Israel declared independence on the 14th May 1948, the day the British Mandate expired. It is commemorated annually in the national holiday of Yom Ha’atzmaud. For Palestinians it is known simply as Yawm al-nakba, or Catastrophe Day. The subsequent wars, refugeeism and atrocities (committed by both sides) have cruelly vindicated the early reservations of the Crane Commission and as bad as they have been we can only hope that their worst impacts do not yet lay before us.