Abadan: The First Oil Crisis

1984 BBC Timewatch Video on the British Role in Iran

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | June 21, 2010                      

BBC Timewatch From 1984-1987, the Persian Gulf was embroiled in what became known as the Tanker War, a phase of the Iran-Iraq War sparked when Iraq initiated a series of attacks on Iranian commercial ships. Several years prior in 1980, Iraq bombed Iran’s main oil refinery in Abadan, the same site once controlled by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later known as BP, or British Petroleum).

In 1984, the BBC documentary series Timewatch devoted its program to what it termed "The First Oil Crisis" — the former Anglo-Iranian oil dispute over Abadan, and subsequent coup of 1953 which toppled Premier Mohammad Mossadegh. Its interview subjects include Sir Peter Ramsbotham (British Envoy to Iran, 1951), Sir Anthony Parsons (Ambassador to Iran, 1974-1979), Professor Homa Katouzian (author, translator of Mossadegh’s memoirs), and Dr. Kenneth Morgan (author, Labour in Power 1945-51).

British documents shown reveal the government’s specific plans drawn up to attack and invade Iran militarily — called Operation Midget, Operation “Plan Y” and Operation Buccaneer respectively. If implemented, such an operation would have utilized a militia about 70,000 strong, beginning with a naval attack on southern Iran.

Presented here is video of the first 18 minutes of the hour long program.

Transcript [Introduction]:

HOST: Conflict in the Gulf, and especially Iran, has been one of those scenarios of which Pentagon war games are made. There’s one particular episode in postwar history that has shaped Iranian hatred of foreigners. Had it been handled differently, maybe Iran’s dealings with the West today would be less full of xenophobia and suspicion.

The Abadan crisis of 1951 was a crucial moment in the postwar history for both Britain and Iran. Tonight, with recently released government records, we’re examining the consequences of that crisis. We talk to British and Iranian historians, and to Sir Anthony Parsons, Britain’s last ambassador under the Shah. In Britain, Abadan was the story of the frustration and confusion of a once great power finding that its strength had gone. In Iran, Abadan is still celebrated as the first time Iranians united against the domination of the West.

Some corrections to the program:

BBC: “The Shah, losing control, turned to Mossadegh and appointed him Prime Minister.”

Mossadegh was elected overwhelmingly by Parliament on April 28, 1951. The Shah only confirmed this election with a ceremonious “appointment”.

BBC: “Two days after being made Prime Minister, on the second of May 1951, Mossadegh nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.”

Nationalization reached its final legislative phase on May 1, 1951 (three days after Mossadegh was elected Premier), as the Senate passed the bill that gave practical application to the nationalization law. The Majles (Parliament) had voted to nationalize the oil industry on March 20, 1951.

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