Feigning Ignorance: Operation Ajax


Last month, David Cameron held a ‘historic’ meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly in New York; the first such engagement to take place between the two nations since before the Islamic Revolution in 1979. It was reported that Cameron had requested the meeting, and was going to use the opportunity to attempt to convince Rouhani to give up his support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

It seems like he did not get what he was looking for, as he went on to criticise Iran only hours later – stating in his speech to the general assembly:

“Iran should also be given the chance to show it can be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We have severe disagreements. Iran’s support for terrorist organisations, its nuclear programme, its treatment of its people. All these need to change.

Iran’s leaders could help in defeating the threat from Isil. They could help secure a more stable, inclusive Iraq, and a more stable and inclusive Syria. And if they are prepared to do this, then we should welcome their engagement.”

These statements are deeply humiliating, and obviously utterly hypocritical; in fact all of these points could equally be applied – if not more than equally – to the UK government. Unlike Iran, we actually have a nuclear weapons programme, and have been funding terrorist organisations in Syria for years now, not to mention our unwavering support for Israel. Our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (both share borders with Iran) have caused devastating instability and violence for these countries, as well as having knock on effects on the region as a whole. Unlike the UK, Iran is actually in the Middle East, and therefore it is they who should be dictating to us how we participate in their affairs. This made me think, does Cameron actually know about Britain’s past ‘meddling’ in Iran, which is responsible for our untrustworthy reputation there? This seems unlikely; it’s difficult to understand how he could make such arrogant statements if he held some basic knowledge of recent Iranian history.


For those who don’t know: in 1953 the UK and United States orchestrated the overthrow of the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran,  Mohammad Mossadegh, and installed the Shah of Iran as an absolute monarch. Mossadegh’s election was a symbol of the deep discontent within Persian society of Britain’s exploitation of Iranian resources: the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) was profiting from the country’s oil and denying any of the profits its people, and in 1951 Mossadegh – with almost full parliamentary support – voted to nationalise the company’s assets and expel the Brits from Iran. Following this, the UK government sought to convince the Americans to assist them in conducting a coup, eventually succeeding with the election of Eisenhower, who was convinced by the CIA that Mossadegh was a Communist threat. As a condition for their participation in reinstating the AIOC, Britain had to end its monopoly over Iran’s oil and allow room for several American petroleum companies. The BBC was a key propaganda tool of the operation, as its BBC Persia service (funded by the Foreign Office) was directed to ‘destroy Persian confidence in the present policy of the Persian government’. The Shah ruled with an iron fist and large US support from 1953 until 1979, when he was deposed by the Islamic Revolution led by the philosopher Ayatollah Khomeini.

‘Operation Ajax’ is a large reason why Tehran is today being run by mullahs, and their anti-Western stance is due to America’s propping up of the Shah’s authoritarian regime. While Obama has admitted his country’s role in the coup – the CIA recently released previously classified documents regarding its role – after doing some brief research, it appears that the UK government has not been as publicly self-reflective.


In 2005 the Foreign Office refused to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act pertaining to the UK’s involvement, and the Foreign Secretary at the time – Jack Straw – denied the BBC’s request for an interview on the subject. A year later however, Straw revealed that the first time he met conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian’s first words to him were about the coup. In 2006, prime minister Tony Blair admitted during an interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 that he had never even heard of Mohammad Mossadegh. Then in 2009, he made the following statements to Fareed Zakaria on CNN:

ZAKARIA: The supreme leader singled out Britain for special condemnation, interfering with Iranian affairs. Why do you think that is? Is the British embassy in Iran — I mean, you were in effect running it for 10 years, running the whole British government — do you fund espionage activities? Do you do things that — why are the Iranians so focused on you guys?

BLAIR: This is nonsense. I mean, they know it’s nonsense. I guess they’ve got to choose somebody to go after, so they choose us.
And, you know, I have been very clear, obviously, in the statements that I’ve made, both as prime minister and afterwards, that nuclear weapons capability of Iran is the red line, and that Iran should stop exporting terrorism, destabilizing people within the region. I mean, I think that’s pretty obvious to say.

And let me make one thing very clear. For us in Britain, we greatly value Iran as a country, its people as a people, its civilization, which is an ancient and proud civilization, as indeed just that.

But the fact is that there are elements within the Iranian system that do cause genuine instability, and worse, around the Middle East. And what we hope very much, whatever happens over these next weeks in Iran, is that over the time to come that we can have a relationship with Iran in which they are trying to be helpful and constructive and conciliatory.

Our Middle East ‘peace envoy’ peddling the “they hate us for our freedoms” rhetoric in 2013:

Whether Cameron is also genuinely ignorant about this matter is unclear; there is perhaps a sense of embarrassment that Eisenhower was essentially duped into approving this operation on Britain’s behalf – this factor was a later source of anger for Washington.

What is evident is that for any meaningful attempt at peace in the Middle East to be achieved, our leaders must be willing to accept and admit our role in its destabilisation, rather than continue with the current hypocritical and self-righteous attitude. As the spokeswoman (Marzieh Afkham) for Iran’s foreign minister said following Cameron’s speech:

“The speech by the British prime minister at the UN general assembly shows the perpetuation of the egocentric attitude of a government which has a history of [causing] trouble in our region.”


GPS: Tony Blair on Iran

1953 Iranian coup d’état

The Mossadegh Project

Rouhani criticizes Cameron’s anti-Iran remarks


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