The diplomatic feud between Iran and the UK deepened today as the war of words escalated.  Following the expulsion of two British diplomats from Iran and the reflexive expulsion of two Iranian diplomats from the UK, the regime arrested eight employees of the British Embassy in Tehran for their supposed role in the protests:

Iranian media reported Sunday that authorities have detained eight local employees of the British Embassy in Tehran for an alleged role in post-election protests, signaling a hardening of Iran’s stance toward the West. …

The semi-official Fars news agency reported Sunday that eight local employees of the British Embassy in Tehran were detained. The eight were suspected of having played a “significant role” in the recent unrest, Fars said in a report also cited by Iran’s English-language, state-run Press TV.

The reports, which could not be confirmed independently, gave no further details.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s Foreign Office said the British government is looking into the Iranian reports. “We’re not able to say any more at this stage, because the situation is obviously quite sensitive,” the spokeswoman said on customary condition of anonymity.

From the AP’s description, it appears those arrested are Iranian nationals, and not staff from the UK, which would be covered under diplomatic immunity.  Of course, we know that the Iranians do not observe the niceties of diplomatic immunity, and reportedly Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself was part of the 1979 hostaging of American diplomatic staff, so that isn’t completely certain.  The British understandably haven’t given out many details.

Until Barack Obama finally started speaking out about the human-rights abuses of the regime during the unrest, the British, French, and Germans all had been accused by the regime of fomenting the unrest over the rigged election.  The clerics had focused especially on the British, despite their trading ties and uninterrupted diplomatic relationship.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has added the US to the regime’s official list of conspirators, but since they already sacked our embassy, there isn’t much Ahmadinejad can do except repeat the same, tired, anti-American slogans of which Iranians have tired long ago.

Obviously, though, this is a rather transparent attempt to “prove” to Iranians that the protests that coalesced from their anger and disillusionment were nothing more than the manipulations of the West.  Will that work?  Possibly; the mullahs have sold variations of this for the last 30 years, and conspiracy theories hold a lot of power in that region.  However, one of the reasons people supported reform candidates like Mirhossein Mousavi was because they have tired of international isolation and living in a pariah nation.  As this forces the regime into further isolation, it only deepens the long-term rot in the support for the mullahcracy.

Mousavi himself may have decided to retreat from his unexpected position as a leader of the democratization movement:

‘Anyone who takes up arms to fight with the people, they are worthy of execution,’ Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami, a ranking cleric, said in a nationally broadcast sermon at Tehran University.

His call for merciless retribution for those who stirred up Iran’s largest wave of dissent since the 1979 Islamic Revolution came as Mir Hossein Mousavi, the nation’s increasingly isolated opposition leader, has been under heavy pressure to give up his fight and slipped even further from view.

Mousavi said he would seek official permission for any future rallies, effectively ending his role in street protests organized by supporters who insist he — not hard-line incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — won the June 12 election. And an aide said Mousavi’s Web site, his primary means of staying in touch with supporters, was taken down by unknown hackers.

The mullahs may have momentarily succeeded in repressing the street demonstrations and open defiance of the regime, but they lost their legitimacy over the last two weeks, and they know it.  That’s why they’re trying so desperately to frame the Brits for the protests, in an attempt to discredit them.  But when millions of people face off against the armed forces of a dictatorship, it’s usually at least the beginning of the end for the tyrants.  And as we’ve been saying, this stopped being about Mousavi after the first few days of the crisis.

Tags: Barack Obama