The tit-for-tat remonstrations between Iran and the UK continue unabated. Yesterday, Iranian diplomats arrived home after their embassy in London was closed, which was in retaliation for the attacks on the UK's embassy in Tehran on Tuesday.
Britain has wisely stopped short of completely severing diplomatic ties, but has accused Tehran of direct complicity in the attack. "That sort of activity is only done with the acquiescence and the support of the state," Britain's ambassador to Iran, Dominick Chilcot, said on Friday. "And there were a number of reasons why, with the benefit of hindsight, this was a state-supported activity."
The allegation may be difficult to prove, although the reasons for prickly relations are not hard to fathom. Even as the diplomatic wrangling was going on last week, the European Union extended sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear programme and threatened crippling action against its oil industry.
Whether the embassy attack was sponsored by the government or the Revolutionary Guard is almost immaterial. Tehran has a responsibility for the security of diplomatic missions on its soil. Its failure to protect the British mission is a grim reminder of the 444-day siege of the US embassy starting in 1979 that greatly contributed to decades of hostile relations.
This incident is certain to increase Iran's isolation in the international community, and not just with Britain. France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have also withdrawn their envoys in protest.
The recent attacks on embassies in Syria - including the UAE's mission - showed how counterproductive mob actions are to mature foreign policy. It has been a sure-fire way to rapidly lose support, not to mention lose credibility. The Assad regime now stands almost alone; even Iran's remaining friends (Russia comes to mind) will be put off by this diplomatic breach.
Above all, letting Iran's extremist elements, often represented by the Basij militia, run rampant undermines any hope of a peaceful diplomatic solution. In these trying times, and with the perceived threat of Iran's nuclear programme, belligerent posturing is a threat to all parties involved. What Tehran's present leaders seem to fail to understand is that deepening isolation and worsening ties harm their own people more than others.