Tuesday, February 7, 2012


The British embassy in Tehran is sacked. Britain severs its diplomatic ties, expels the
Iranian ambassador and all other diplomats to the court of St. James. It was something
of a courtly dance, the British clearly knew what to expect, there was no surprised struggle,
no hostages and there are signs in the backchannels that the Iranians didn't want events
to go as far as they did or, perhaps, Ahmedinejad or the Supreme Ayatollah is scoring points
off the other. Where does all this sit in the grand strategy of Britain and the Arab world?
By Howard Morris

First, of course, Iran isn't an Arab country.
Most of the time this seems an irrelevant
distinction but it's important in the Middle
East where Iran strives to be the regional super
power and to champion the cause of the
Shi'ite, a minority in Islam but in significant
places forming the majority, strung across
the area in a vast crescent. In Saudi, in Oman,
Bahrain, the UAE, among the Iraqi Sunni, Iran
is feared far more than Israel is loathed. The
Arabs don't want Iran to get the Bomb. That
we know.
And so to Britain. What are its Middle
Eastern goals? Competing factors tend towards
a balance but one that persistently
nags Israel, a strategic friend, to compromise
and concede. British governments are not
and never have been driven by the Jewish
vote. There are almost twice as many Jews living in Brooklyn as in the
entire United
Kingdom. With a UK population of around
60 million, the presence of 300,000 Jews is
immaterial and while we may have disproportionate
business and professional success,
it's still not enough to make the Jewish
vote, Jewish influence, a powerful voice in
Westminster - whatever our enemies might
say, and of course they do darkly mention
"cabals" and "media ownership," more of this
We need oil, so, like the U.S., this drives
Britain to want to befriend the Arabs. And
the Foreign Office has a tradition of Arabism.
Being an Arabist is a thing in Britain, like being
an Anglophile in the U.S.
But off we went to war in Iraq. A war
from which Israel tried to dissuade us and
that a million marched against. We did that
because of the "Special Relationship" with
the United States. It led to the social democrat,
Tony Blair, making common cause with
the right wing President Bush and burning
his reputation and legacy with the left in
Britain in the process. President Obama, incidentally,
is far less of an Anglophile than
previous presidents - his father saw the
British repression of the Mau Mau uprising
in Kenya. Be that as it may, Britain is closer
politically to the U.S. than to Europe and it
is expedient for America to have an ally that
militarily punches above its weight. So we
won't get out of line with the U.S.
And Britain does respect Israel. The attitude
is sometimes coloured by stereotypes
and tropes about Jews. While Nazi type racist
anti-Semitism haunts the fringes of the
near irrelevant nutty right wingers, the real
anti-Semites are on the left. They see Israel
as America's proxy. They like their minorities
to be obviously suffering and dependent
and Jews seem to do so well. Hence the
BBC's institutional bias. It's full of socialists
who have given up every vestige of true socialism
in their own lives but retain a dislike
for the U.S. and all its works. Israel is seen by
them as a creature of the imperial powers, a
view shared by the left in Europe, a colonial
imposition. In contrast Americans see Israel
as an analogue of their own struggle for liberty
in their own land. So a Labour MP who
questioned the appointment of a Jewish
ambassador to Israel because his loyalties
might be divided and who raised some ugly
implications of conspiring groups of international
Jews, was forced to apologise. But the
mainstream media hardly touched the story.
Britain, whatever its left leaning media
might say, is a friend to Israel and itself a
tolerant country. Remember it was Britain
who gave the Balfour Declaration and even
though the Irgun and the Stern Gang fought
a bitter war against the forces of the British
Mandate I don't once recall my parents or
any family members having encountered
any anti-Semitism during the period before
In the future? Well there is a significant
Muslim minority in Britain that is growing
and will be the majority in some places.
Among them are a sizeable chunk who are
disenchanted and militant and vehemently
anti-Israel and anti-British. Britain has absorbed
minorities before but this will be a
big swallow.

Howard is an English lawyer at a major international
firm, recently seconded to their New York office.
He is accompanied by his wife, Gaby. They have
two children, both in their twenties, back in the UK.