Yesterday, dozens of young Iranian men surged past police into the British Embassy complex in Tehran, smashing windows, hurling Molotov cocktails, and tossing documents from windows. The British flag was burned and the Iranian flag was raised in its place. The embassy was also looted and a car was burned outside. The riot occurred two days after the Iranian parliament voted to reduce diplomatic relations with Britain, who supported upgraded sanctions against Iran for its continuing pursuit of nuclear weapons. At a time of incredibly high tensions in the Middle East, the last thing the region needed was a re-enactment of the 1979 US embassy takeover, the emblematic point of breakdown in relations between the fanatical Iranian regime and the West.
The British Foreign Office denounced the melee, noting that Iran has a “clear duty” under international law to protect diplomats and offices. The Obama administration joined Britain as well as other members of the European Union in denouncing the violence. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made the usual toothless condemnations, “in the strongest terms,” of course, and reiterated the British demand that “Iran has a responsibility to protect the diplomatic missions present in its country and the personnel stationed at them.”
The storming of the embassy by regime supporters was a tenacious effort. Police cleared the demonstrators in front of the main embassy, but later clashed with protesters a second time, using tear gas to disperse the mob after protesters once again gained entry to the compound, according to Fars news agency in Iran. Another Iranian news report said six embassy staff members had been held hostage for a short time. British Foreign Secretary William Hague threatened, “Clearly there will be other, further, and serious consequences.”
An Iranian official who declined to be identified told Reuters the government had no role in the uprising. “It was not an organized measure. The establishment had no role in it. It was not planned,” he claimed. The assertion is almost impossible to take seriously. The UK has become a major target of government officials in recent days, with one assembly member publicly saying the country was “worse than the devil” and calling for the ambassador’s expulsion. Only days before the attack, the same politician also exhorted the Iranian people to take action: “The British government should know that if they insist on their evil stances, the Iranian people will punch them in the month, exactly as happened against America’s den of spies.” Al-Jazeera reporter Dorsa Jabbari claimed the police and various ministries had prior knowledge of the protest, organized by the student arm of the Basij armed group, Khomeini’s foot soldiers. “Any such action of this scale can never be independent in the Islamic Republic,” he said. “These gatherings are always approved by higher officials.”
Giving weight to Jabbari’s assessment was the fact that Sardar Mohamad Reza Naghdi, the commander of the Basij, appeared on state television on Sunday night. He claimed his group was “counting the moments” until it could conduct a strike against “Zionist forces.” Sunday was also the day the Iranian parliament voted to expel the British ambassador. A majority of the 179 lawmakers were in favor of reducing relations to the level of “charge d’affaires” within two weeks. They also approved reducing economic relations with Britain “to a minimum” and raised the possibility that other nations would be subjected to the same punishment if they behaved in the same manner. “This bill is only the beginning,” warned lawmaker Ali Larijani, speaking on behalf of the parliament. The bill required the approval of Iran’s Guardians Council before taking effect. They unanimously endorsed it Monday.
Interestingly, the vote represented a rift between some lawmakers and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While his government remains steadfast in its refusal to halt its nuclear program, Ahmadinejad was hoping to exploit diplomatic channels to mitigate the worst effects of the sanctions. But with the vote, this possibility was lost, a development that comes as no surprise to political analyst Hasan Sedghi. No matter the consequences of further sanctions, “radical hardliners in Iran will use the crisis to unite people and also to blame the crisis for the fading economy,” he said.
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