BRITAIN NO LONGER A WORLD POWER TO ACT ALONE: THE NATIONALISATION OF THE ANGLO-IRANIAN OIL COMPANY’S CRISIS: AN EXAMPLE BRITAIN SHOULD HAVE LEARNT IN THE SUEZ CANAL CRISIS OF 1956

BRITAIN NO LONGER A WORLD POWER TO ACT ALONE: THE NATIONALISATION OF THE ANGLO-IRANIAN OIL COMPANY’S CRISIS: AN EXAMPLE BRITAIN SHOULD HAVE LEARNT IN THE SUEZ CANAL CRISIS OF 1956

Berthoud, in the concluding part of one of his minutes, wrote, ‘what Miss Lambton was proposing was proposing was in effect a public relations and education programme which she lamented that the Company itself had not implemented’.¹ Again, according to Berthoud’s minute, ‘Miss Lambton suggested that Robin Zaehner, lecturer in Persian (and later Professor of Eastern Religions) at Oxford, would be the “ideal man” to conduct the covert pro-British campaign.’²

As well as being respected by scholars, and regarded as an authority on Iranian politics, as was said before, Ann Lambton’s views were highly valued by the Foreign Offices.

Similar to Ann Lambton, Robin Zaehner believed that the British Embassy in Teheran could become instrumental in slowly changing the public mood against the Iranian Prime Minister, Dr. Musaddiq. Zaehner had been successfully involved in covert operations and propaganda in Iran. In 1944, when there was a serious threat from the Soviet Union that they might occupy the Azerbaijan province of Iran, he mobilised public opinion in Iran against the Soviet influence. Robin Zaehner knew nearly everybody in Teheran who was significant. He believed that the British Embassy in Teheran should align itself with influential Iranians who saw their own interest and the interest of the United Kingdom as one. The influential and wealthy Rashidian family were considered by Zaehner as the ideal allies of that type. The Rashidian family, the brothers Sayfullah, Qudratullah and Assadullah, had close contacts with Britain. They were regular visitors to Britain, and kept a family suite at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The Rashidian brothers played a crucial role for Britain, as will be shown in this chapter. Their view about Musaddiq was the same as Zaehner’s.³

Zaehner was close to Herbert Morrison, the Labour Foreign Secretary, and held his brief directly from him. Morrison was contemptuous of Musaddiq. He instructed Zaehner to manipulate internal politics in Iran to organise the fall of Musaddiq. Morrison also sent a senior officer of MIA, called C.M. Woodhouse, to form a team with Zaehner at the British Embassy in Teheran for this operation.

As Robin Zaehner was sent to Iran first, before Woodhouse, the alliance with the Rashidian brothers, by the time Woodhouse arrived in Teheran in August 1951, had been re-established. During the Second World War the Rashidian brothers and Zaehner worked together in Iran against the Nazis. In fact, since the War, their network had remained intact. They were experts on mob manipulation. Woodhouse, the senior MI6 officer, was impressed by Zaehner’s capability in enlisting the Rashidians, however, as time progressed he considered Zaehner,

as a dangerous amateur so far as serious undercover work was concerned. Zaehner himself did not possess the stamina or the ruthless determination to see his antiMusaddiq plans through to completion. Perhaps, since he had a philosophical temperament, he was plagued with selfdoubt. He began to question the wisdom of intervention. He yielded control of contact with the Rashidians to Woodhouse. 4    

      1.  FO 371/91548/EP 1531/674 in W. R. LOUIS, op. cit., p. 660.
      2.  Ibid.
      3. C. ANDREW, The Making of the British Intelligence Community, (London: Sceptre books, 1986).
      4. J. A. BILL and W. R. LOUIS, op. cit., p. 250.

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