To protect British interests in the Persian Gulf for economic and defensive reasons Britain, in co­operation with the United States, as she was the only country which was able to withstand the Soviet Union and communist pressure, prevented the Soviet Union from reaching to the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf. The American Government was of the opinion that developing close economic and political relations with Iran, the most powerful state in the Persian Gulf, with its huge population and industrialisation programme, would serve Western interests better. Direct rule, in the United States’ view, in an area as strategically crucial as the Persian Gulf with its huge oil reserves, could potentially lead to confrontation with the Soviet Union. The British Government’s view on the defence of the Persian Gulf was also similar to that of the United States. The British view was that the armed forces of Iran should have capabilities beyond those of internal security. Iran was to be given aid and arms in the role of the buffer zone between the threat posed by the Soviet Union, and the oil-rich Persian Gulf.

The Iranian oil crisis of 1951 was as crucial as the Suez Canal crisis five years later. It too was a challenge to Britain’s world authority, yet at the same time it was not seen as a precipitous decline in British power. In retrospect the historian might take a rather different point of view.

Following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by the Egyptian Government in 1956, however, Sir Anthony Eden, the British Prime Minister, was of the opinion that, during the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s crisis, Britain had to offer the United States a share in the new oil consortium for their co-operation. During the Sues crisis Sir Anthony Eden did not want another American involvement which might lead to further United States’ influence in the Middle East, as was the case in the aftermath of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s crisis.

Without consultation with the Americans, Britain independently proceeded. The United Kingdom, in an Anglo-Franco-Israe1i plan, launched an attack on Egypt.

The Suez operation by Britain.. France and Israel did not succeed. The United States, in the aftermath of the attack, played a leading role in the United Nations in condemning Britain’s action and demanded British withdrawal from Egyptian soil.

The British Prime Minister should have learned from the Iranian crisis that Great Britain could not act militarily without the American concurrence. The Suez crisis only underlined that Britain could not act without the co-operation of the Americans. Whereas the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s crisis showed the limited range of action Britain could take. It indicated that the United Kingdom could not act militarily in the Middle East without consultation with the Americans.

The Suez affair of 1956 has always been the focus of attention. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s crisis is as significant as Suez or even more so with regard to Britain’s position in the Middle East. All possible options to complete events in Iran were explored, and in the end Britain had to go into alliance with the United States. The American ‘market’ took the lead. The Iranian crisis was a kind of forerunner to Suez, because, firstly, it showed that military action was exceedingly risky. Secondly, that the American dimension was important, and thirdly, that Britain was in the cruel dilemma of having to protect her vital interests with one hand tied behind her back.

Iran showed that, when all was said and done, diplomacy rather than force was the only option, But diplomacy is a means of trying to control an environment which is probably largely beyond one’s control. Britain’s best option-to engineer a change of government, could only be achieved through American mediation and ultimately intervention. So diplomacy was not enough, though economic sanctions did help undermine Musaddiq’s position.

In this way, the Iranian crisis provides an important illustration of the changes in style of British diplomacy when she was pursuing her interests in a world that had changed greatly since Britain gained her dominating position in the Middle East, between 1918 and 1939.

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