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January 28, 2023 3:40 pm

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Iranian arms dealing continued in the UK even after notorious tank deal fell apart in 1979

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Following her release from detention in Iran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, held hostage since 2016,said: what happened now should have happened six years ago. She was referring to the fact that her release had been secured at the same time as the British government paid Iran a debt it had owed since the first day of her detention  and had in fact owed since the 1970s.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was tragically used as a pawn in this decades-long dispute over almost 400 million.

Research has explored the history of the Anglo-Iranian arms trading relationship and has found that London continued to be a global hub for Iran’s arms purchasing efforts even after the 1979 Iranian revolution. This is perhaps surprising given what we know about Zaghari-Ratcliffes case. Received wisdom is that the UK failed to follow through on arms deals with Iran due to concerns over the politics and provocative actions of the new Iranian regime. These revelations from the archives make this narrative harder to swallow.

A contentious tank deal

Iran was a major customer for British weapons in the 1970s. Between 1971 and 1976, the Iranian government ordered 1,500 Chieftain tanks and 250 armoured recovery vehicles from Britain at a cost of around 650 million. These orders  and the associated funds were lodged withBritish state-owned arms company International Military Services Ltd (IMS Ltd).

At the time, Iran was dramatically expanding its arms purchases, having cashed in on the 1973 oil crisis that saw prices quadruple. The Shah of Iran  the monarch ruling the country  was using the proceeds to pursue domestic modernisation, including through defence and arms procurement. Journalist Anthony Sampsondescribed Iranin the mid-1970s as the salesmans dream. The country spent over US$10 billion on tanks, aircraft, missiles and all manner of weaponry between 1974 and 1976, and planned a further US$10 billion spend by 1981.


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