The decision by a group of British parliamentarians to meet with top Iranian officials is another sign that London is foolishly attempting to restore diplomatic relations with Tehran.
Earlier this week, Jack Straw, who was British Foreign Secretary when the UK invaded Iraq in 2003, met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. He was joined by three other British MPs, including Norman Lamont, who held the post of Chancellor in Margaret Thatcher’s government during the early 1990s. It is likely that a reciprocal visit to London by Iranian MPs will take place in the near future.
The visit comes a month after the UK’s newly appointed chargé d’affaires, Ajay Sharma, journeyed to Iran in a first diplomatic visit by a British envoy since London extracted staff from Tehran after the storming of its embassy in November 2011. Sharma is on record as saying he is “very much looking forward to renewing direct UK contact with the Iranian Government.”
All of which confirms the view that Britain and the West are trying to rehabilitate Iran in the wake of an international agreement regarding Tehran’s nuclear policy. In addition to America’s diplomatic work, the British delegation is the fourth visit by European politicians since Hassan Rouhani took office in August. In November, David Cameron and Rouhani spoke on the phone. The last time a British prime minister had direct contact with an Iranian leader was a decade ago.
The Tehran trip can hardly be compared to the enthusiastic overtures made by London towards Beijing in recent months. David Cameron and other top UK politicians have been wooing China for some time in a desperate attempt to attract Chinese money into Britain’s ailing economy. Still, the all-party parliamentary expedition to Tehran and the diplomatic desire to restore relations is yet another sign that London is willing to work with regimes that have bad human rights records.
Iran is a dangerous country – not just to its Jewish and Arab neighbors but to the world at large. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies see the West’s rapprochement with Iran as a deliberate political and diplomatic realignment. Iran’s gradual rehabilitation should be seen in the broader context of the West’s inability to deal with Tehran’s genocidal intentions towards Israel, as well as its vicious proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. It’s beginning to look like a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them.” First, Bashar al-Assad is let off the hook after attacking his own people with chemical weapons. Then sanctions against Iran are relieved. And if a report in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai is to be believed, there is now a diplomatic backchannel between the UK and Hezbollah.
The West’s appeasement of Iran and her proxies has obvious echoes of Britain’s misplaced appeasement of Hitler at the end of the 1930s. Neville Chamberlain has gone down in history as the man who was duped by the Fuhrer. Will Obama and Cameron be castigated by future historians for failing to stop the world’s most dangerous regime? In all likelihood, the answer is yes. Indeed, the West’s leaders already look weak and silly. Russia, Iran and Syria have successfully wrongfooted the West and have changed the political and diplomatic climate in a surprisingly short space of time. Britain and the US, on the other hand, have been on the backfoot and are now trying to save face by reformulating relations with Tehran.
The rehabilitation of Iran has echoes of Britain’s reconciliation with Libya, a pariah state since the end of the 1960s. But in the 1990s the relationship between the UK and Libya improved, with events culminating in Tony Blair’s declaration of a “new relationship” with Colonel Gaddafi in December 2003. The fact that Gaddafi was behind one of the worst terrorist attacks ever perpetrated against the West (the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988) was conveniently forgotten. I can foresee a time when Iran is similarly reconciled to the West.
Should Israel be worried? Yes, because the budding Iran-West rapprochement not only isolates Israel, it actually makes war in the Middle East far more likely. Iran will be emboldened by the US and UK’s overtures and (in all probability) will continue its nuclear program. Meanwhile an exhausted West will relax sanctions in the full knowledge that a nuclear Iran is inevitable.
Israel, though, is hardly likely to allow Iran to go nuclear and will take military action against Iran’s nuclear sites (possibly with Saudi Arabia’s tacit blessing) This may happen next year; perhaps 2016 or 2017. Binyamin Netanyahu has already promised that Israel “will act against [Iran] in time if need be.”
If attacked, Tehran will play the role of victim and appeal to the West. Having made their peace with Iran, the UK and the US will find themselves in the absurd position of condemning Israel for making the world a safer place. In the long run, however, Israel’s actions might be viewed more positively. The Jewish state was widely criticized by the international community after it destroyed a nuclear reactor south of Baghdad in 1981. But fast forward two decades and Operation Babylon is viewed in a better light. Bill Clinton, for example, used an interview in 2005 to express his support for the attack, describing it as “a really good thing.”
Israel must view the Iran situation with a long lens and act accordingly. As a Brit I can only apologize for my country’s inability to see Iran for the dangerous bully that it really is.