This editorial was originally published in the September 5, 1953, issue of The Nation.
Everyone here was amazed that Dr. Mossadegh’s tragi-comic portrayal of a nationalist with the qualities of a Gandhi and a Machiavelli had a two-year run on the Persian stage. British critics–and more recently the Americans–thought his performance horrible. But by playing to the Persian gallery, Dr. Mossadegh blocked all attempts to cut it short.
The weeping Prime Minister has now finally been replaced by a chest-thumping militarist who was watching from the right wing and awaiting the nod of the vacillating young occupant of the royal box. The hard-profiled General Zahedi will not play to the gallery and will get no applause from the left. He will seek the plaudits of the large feudal landowners, tribal chieftains, obscurantist religious leaders like Kashani, and reactionary generals like himself. He clearly models his performances on that of the military dictator who made him a general, Reza Shah, the father of the present monarch.
The British public first heard about General Zahedi from Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean, now a Conservative MP, who described his adventures in Iran in 1942 in a book called “Eastern Approaches.” At that time Maclean was a heroic counter-intelligence kidnapper, and General Zahedi, then commander of the Persian forces at Isfahan, was a leading Nazi plotter. British and Russian forces had entered Iran in 1941 to safeguard that back door to embattled Russia. The pro-German Reza Shah had been replaced by his son.
German agents were known to be still active in southern Iran, and British counter-intelligence feared a rising of pro-Nazi Persian militarists like General Zahedi to coincide with a German offensive in the Soviet Caucasus and a German air-borne attack on the Allied Tenth Army. “Operation Pongo” was the British answer. A staff car flying the Union Jack drove openly up to General Zahedi’s house. When the General came to the door, “he found himself,” according to Maclean, “looking down the barrel of my Colt automatic.” The General was smuggled out in the staff car with a gun in his ribs and flown off to Palestine.
Maclean wrote in his book: “General Zahedi, though pleasant to meet, was a really bad lot–a bitter enemy of the Allies, a man of unpleasant personal habits, and by virtue of his grain-hoarding activities a source of popular discontent and an obstacle to the efficient administration of South Persia.”
After the Allies released him in 1945, General Zahedi became inspector of military forces in southern Iran, just in time to participate in the maneuver which gave the burgeoning Communist-led Tudeh Party its first setback. The Tudeh-led strike in the Abadan oil field in July, 1946, and the inclusion of three Tudeh ministers in the Qavam Cabinet in August, 1946, had frightened the British into counter-action along three lines. British troops were landed in Basra, the Iraqi port adjoining Abadan. The pro-British Iraqi government demanded the “return” of Khuzistan, the Persian province in which Abadan is located. And the tribes in southern Iraq “spontaneously” threatened to revolt unless the Tudeh ministers were excluded from the Cabinet. General Zahedi, long an intimate of the tribal chieftains, acted as intermediary to persuade the very willing Qavam government to “capitulate” to this pressure.