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

As was noted earlier, ironically it was the Labour Foreign Secretary, Herbert Morrison, who gave firm instructions for Musaddiq’s overthrow by covert means, but Anthony Eden, the Conservative Foreign Secretary, though outraged by the Iranian act of nationalisation, turned out to be as reluctant to approve this kind of operation as any Labour Foreign Secretary might have been. In Eden’s judgement, this kind of operation was ‘direct, blatant and risky’.¹He said to Churchill, ‘the Americans are perpetually eager to do something.’² The backing that the Iranian Prime Minister, Dr. Musaddiq, was receiving from the Tudeh party, by the summer of 1953, being concerned about communist influence in Iran, the turbulent political situation in Iran, which was described earlier in this article, and the fear of challenge from the Soviet Union, changed US policy towards Musaddiq, as has already been explained. Eventually Eden did not have to approve of the action, as he underwent the operation related to his gall bladder complication, and it was not until October 1953 that he returned to the Foreign Office. It was the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill himself, who gave the go-ahead.

 

Churchill had always been involved in high politics of Iranian oil. It was Churchill who played a major role in the conversion of the Royal Navy from coal to oil. Furthermore, Churchill had a crucial part in the British Government’s buying of a majority of shares in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Thus, his interest in Iranian oil’s power politics started well before the First World War. Churchill had calculated at that period that the saving on the price paid for oil alone would amount to about £40 million, and he had stated:

On this basis it may be that the aggregate profits, realized and potential, of this investment may be estimated at a sum not merely sufficient to pay all the programme of ships, great and small of that year and for the whole pre-War oil fuel installation, but are such that we may not unreasonably expect that one day we shall be entitled also to claim that the mighty fleets laid down in 1912, 1913 and 1914, the greatest ever built by any power in an equal period, were added to the British Navy without costing a single penny to the taxpayer.³

Consequently, Churchill had every reason to take interest in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s crisis. ‘Churchill enjoyed dramatic operations and had no high regard for timid diplomatists.4‘Therefore, when Eden became ill, Churchill took on responsibility for foreign affairs. After a number of conversations with Woodhouse, he gave the authority from London. The date was set for mid-August 1953. Similar to Churchill, Eisenhower mastered details and paid attention to documents. He gave his endorsement to the operation. Operation AJAX was the American name, and Operation BOOT was the British name for the anti-Musaddiq plan.

Operation AJAX, like Operation BOOT, was based on Iranian influentials. The two networks now closely worked together. Since no British official could now enter Iran, Kermit Roosevelt became the obvious man to take charge of the coup. Roosevelt, on 6th July 1953, went to Iran, and was authorised to co-ordinate fully the details of the operation, with General Norman Schwarzkopf (then Brigadier-General), in charge of the overall operation, who had served in Iran for six years as head of the Shah’s gendamerie.

The Rashidian brothers were provided with a radio transmitter to maintain contact with MI6 and Woodhouse put his opposite number in the US Central Intelligence Agency in touch with other useful allies in Iran.5       

In southern Iran some of the tribal leaders were in the pay of MI6. Both the unban and the rural components would be activated simultaneously in order to counter Tudeh support of Musaddiq.6

The Rashidian brothers were given advice and kept informed by radio about anti-Musaddiq activities, monitored from Beirut and Cyprus. Forces against Musaddiq were growing and getting more and more strong; on 19th August 1953 a demonstration headed towards Musaddiq’s house. He did not attempt to resist by force and was quickly arrested. Kermit Roosevelt immediately flew to London to report to his MI6 colleagues and Churchill. Therefore, there was good deal of justification for Disraeli’s claim, when as noted in this article he said that governments often continue with their predecessor’s policies. This, indeed, proved to be the case. The plan to overthrow Musaddiq by covert means started under the Labour Government and was executed by the Conservative Government. Soon after Musaddiq’s overthrow General Fazrollah Zahedi, appointed by the Shah as the Prime Minister, chose his cabinet.

      1. J. A. BILL and W. R. LOUIS, op. cit., p. 283.
      2. Ibid, p. 251.
      3. W. S. CHURCHILL, The World Crisis, Vol. 1, in ibid, p. 253.
      4.   Ibid
      5.  B. LAPPING, Op. cit., p. 269
      6.   J. A. BILL and W. R. LOUIS, op. cit., p. 254.

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