Iran, its nuclear arsenal development and the American ire ——
What points this write-up tries to explain?
1. Since when and why the Iranians and the western world led by the Americans fell out with each other?
2. Why are the Iranians trying to develop nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them?
3. Why do the Arabs and the Iranians loathe each other?
4. Why are the Iranians so intransigent in matters related to their atomic programme?
5. Does Iran have an atom bomb? If not, when can it own one?
To get an answer to the above questions, one has to get some idea of the history of Iran since 1941.
During the World War 2 Iran, under the then Shah (the ruler) had actively supported the Axis powers (Italy, Germany, Japan) causing great anger and unease among the Allied powers (America, England, France, China and Russia)
By the time the World War 2 ended, British and Russian forces had invaded Iran and occupied it. As their first act of vengeance, they deposed the ruling Shah and installed his son Mohammad Reza Pahllavi on the throne.
In 1950 Ali Razmara became prime minister of the country, but was assassinated less than nine months later. He was succeeded as the prime minister by the nationalist, Mohammad Mossadeq. This man was a staunch nationalist and was opposed to the exploitation of Iran’s huge oil wealth by British oil companies.
Under his stewardship, in April, 1951, Iranian parliament voted to nationalize the oil industry and to throw out the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Britain was angry and, in retaliation, imposed an embargo and a blockade of Iranian ports, halting oil Iranian exports. This measure hit Iranian economy hard.
Iran had two power centers then —
1. the pro-west Shah as the Sovereign and
2. staunchly nationalist Prime minister. Soon a tussle for power between the pro-western, anti-nationalization Shah (the sovereign ruler) and the nationalist Prime Minister Mossadeq ensued. With rousing popular support, the Prime Minster turned the heat on the Shah forcing him to flee the country in August 1953.
In 1953 August, Mossadeq was overthrown in a coup engineered by the British and American intelligence services. General Fazlollah Zahedi was proclaimed as prime minister and the Shah returned to Iran to take his position.
A fast-track campaign to modernize that backfired ..
In 1963 January, the Shah embarked on a campaign to modernize and westernize the country, and reform its medieval, clergy-influenced society radically. He launched the ‘White Revolution’, a programme of land reform and social and economic modernization. Shah’s intent was noble, but he did not have his fingers on the pulse of his people. The reforms were generally accepted by the society, but not its scorching pace. Shah encouraged women going to schools, colleges, taking up jobs, shedding the burqa, wearing western dresses and enjoying equal rights as men. He allowed the young men to shave off their beards, mingle with the opposite sex freely, see western films, go to clubs, and most importantly study in western-type universities to develop modern skills. The clout of the clergy over the legal system was curtailed.
Predictably, a backlash, led by the conservative elements of the society started. The Mullahs, being orthodox Muslims, were the vanguards of the people’s resistance. To smother the resistance that was getting fiercer by the day, the Shah started a Secret Police organization. This police outfit was mandated to sniff out the rebellious elements. They were empowered to resort to very brutal ways to accomplish their objective. People were picked up from their homes at dead of night, thrown into prisons and tortured. The repression got more and more brutal as the Shah stepped up his campaign to modernize the country. It was a bloody period indeed. The scars left by the brutalities of the secret police were there all over the society. This went on during the 1960s.
By the September 1978, the Shah’s policies had completely alienated the religious clergy that lead the resistance. What followed was a period of stiff stand-off between Shah’s internal security apparatus and the people in the streets. Shah’s authoritarian rule led to riots, strikes and mass demonstrations. Invoking Islamic sentiments, the religious clergy had cleverly manipulated the public opinion against the Shah. Martial law was imposed.
It would be interesting to note here that Iran, at that time, had the largest and most modern army in the area, had the best internal police organization and a bureaucracy loyal to the Shah.
As resistance leaders began to be hunted down by the police one by one, the man at the head of the religious opposition, Ayotollah Khomeini, fled to France to escape arrest by the Shah’s forces.
Shah exiled, Khomeini returns home…
By 1979 January, things had come to the boiling point. The resistance had turned to be a mass movement against the Shah. As the political situation deteriorated fast, the Shah and his family fled the country, and were forced into exile. So fierce was the resistance that the much-vaunted armed forces and the internal police could not protect the Shah. They just stood by.
All through this period of turbulence the United States of America had supported the Shah to the hilt, giving him state-of-the-art arms, ammunitions, besides political and moral support.
The people in the streets took a very dim view of American support for the Shah. They, along with the religious clergy, were very angry with American policies in the region.
On 1st February, 1979, the Islamic fundamentalist, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, triumphantly returned to Iran following 14 years of exile in France. He was given a rousing, almost hysterical welcome in Teheran. The jubilant followers looking towards him for spiritual and political leadership put the sulking Ayatollah at the helm of affairs in Iran. The Ayuatollah came to be revered by his people like God.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini …
On 1st April, 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed following a referendum. The Ayatollah was a very austere and orthodox Muslim. He put in place a very rigid system of government which had no place for liberalism, atheistic thinking or anything not decreed by him as Islamic.
All the progressive measures towards western ways of life put in place by the Shah were reversed. Iran saw the return of the Burqua, beard, compulsory prayers in the mosque, retreat of the women folk to the confines of their homes and similar rigid Islamic practices sanctioned by the Ayatollah.
Thus began a revolution in reverse. In their misplaced enthusiasm, the Iranians called for similar revolutions in other Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria. It was a foolish act which angered and frightened the long-entrenched rulers there. It sowed the seeds of much mistrust between the Shia-majority Persian Iran and the Sunni-majority Arab countries of the Middle East who had maintained cordial relations with the Americans till then.
In the aftermath of the Revolution, Iran was seething in anger at the Americans. The anger manifested itself in the form of anti-American rants emanating in chorus from everywhere in the country. In retaliation, the Americans unleashed a huge propaganda campaign to malign the Ayatollah and the new Islamic Republic of Iran. Sanctions, embargoes and every other tool at America’s arsenal were deployed to make life for the new administration unbearable.
An incident that took Iran-U.S. relations to a new low …
In 1979 November, a very un-savoury incident occurred. Islamic militants took 52 Americans hostage inside the U.S. embassy in Tehran. They demanded the extradition of the Shah, in the U.S. at the time for medical treatment, to face trial in Iran.
This raid on the American embassy shocked the entire diplomatic world, because such siege of a foreign country’s embassy breaks all cannons of international law.
America was very exasperated and extremely angry. The lives of its embassy staff were in danger. The Islamic group allowed nothing inside, not even food, water and medicines. Even the Red Cross was not allowed a visit inside.
In 1980 January, Abolhasan Bani-Sadr was elected the first President of the Islamic Republic. His government began work on a major nationalization programme. The Ayatollah remained in the background aloof from the day-to-day functioning of the government. It was done by the President, but no major decision in administration could be taken without the blessing of the Ayatollah. Such structure of dual centers of power exists even today blighting the democracy in the country.
The exiled Shah died of cancer in Egypt in July, 1980 finally bringing down the curtain on a tumultuous period of Iran’s history.
Iran-Iraq war, a senseless conflict begun by Saddam …
Sensing an opportunity in Iran weakened by internal turmoil and growing international isolation, Saddam Hussain of Iraq invaded Iran in September, 1980. This highly ruinous war continued for eight long years spilling much blood and bringing both sides to their knees. By the time the two countries agreed on a truce plan, no clear winner had emerged.
America aided Iraq generously in this conflict.
The siege ends, but the two nations drift far apart …
In January, 1981, after nearly 444 days of confinement, the siege on the American embassy was lifted and the diplomats were freed to go home after their long ordeal. But this incident of a few fanatic Iranian young men (supported by the Ayatollah) almost permanently damaged America’s perception of Iran.
Since then, America has regarded Iran as a country ruled by a religious clergy who see the world in a way vastly different from the way America does. Iran’s active involvement in Lebanon to wage a proxy war against its western-backed elected government there, its open espousing of Iran-like revolutions in Arab countries to depose the autocratic leaders there, its strident effort to project itself as the sole leader of the Islamic world, and its extreme hostility to Israel, have antagonized public opinion in America and in most parts of the world against Iran. (What was Iran’s role during Israel’s formation?)
The Arab countries sense danger at the assertiveness and hegemonistic tendencies of Iran….
Iranians are mostly Shias as opposed to Sunnis in the Arab world. Iranians are Persians who boast of their superior culture, and religious authenticity. They loathe the Arabs as uncouth, boorish, un-intelligent, and descendants of a nomadic race. The Arabs strongly resent such snobbery of the Iranians.
The Iranians have further angered the western public opinion by refusing to recognize Israel, and denying the Holocaust, mankind’s history’s one of the most cruel chapters. The present President Ahmedinezad and the present grand Ayatollah glibly talk of liquidation of the state of Israel. Such a publicly-proclaimed belligerent stance invites the wrath of most nations in the world, America and Israel in particular.
The looming Ayatollahs and the skewed power structure of Iran ..
Iran is a democracy. It holds regular elections, has a thriving opposition, but few give much credence to these. The Ayatollah, who heads a religious council, wields veto power over the President and the decisions of the Parliament. He can over-rule any law or action of the government through an edict which can not be challenged in a court of law. This makes the democracy in Iran so imperfect and subject to much ridicule in the West.
The present President, Ahmedinizad, often talks in a very irresponsible manner boasting about Iran’s prowess, impending demise of Israel and that of the United States. This type of bravado coming from the mouth of a head of state invites derision and wrath internationally.
In February, 1989, Salman Rusdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ was published. Its contents infuriated the Islamic world. The Ayatollah jumped into the fray by issuing a Fatwa to reward any one who killed Salman Rushdie. Blasphemous or not, this extreme show of intolerance towards works of literature convinced the west that it was impossible to do business with Iran till such time it remained under the influence of the clergy.
Demise of Ayatollah Khomeni in 1989, but no respite from the belligerence of Iran …
On 3rd June,1989, Ayatollah Khomeini died. On 4 June, President Khamene’i was appointed as the new supreme leader.
Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was sworn in as the new President in August, 1989.
As a token of goodwill to the new leadership, the U.S. released 567 million dollars of frozen Iranian assets in November, 1989.
Things, however, did not go America’s way. Iran bank-rolled the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon, sent assassins to far-off places to kill political fugitives and supported armed groups to sneak into Israel to mount suicide attacks.
It openly opposed the Middle East peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
To queer the pitch further it launched a clandestine nuclear programme away from the supervision of the IAEA. These activities came to light in 2002, and are believed to be continuing apace. Inspectors from IAEA have gone into Iran many times, but have come back each time with some nagging unanswered questions. Even after repeated demand from the IAEA, these questions have not been answered satisfactorily yet. Rather Iran has been found to fudge facts, play for time and avoid giving unequivocal commitments to the powerful western countries, represented by EU negotiators. Such attempts by Iran not to come out clean on its overt and covert nuclear programme have set alarm bells ringing in Israel, America and Europe.
Israel, feels threatened particularly because the Iranian authorities have time and again proclaimed publicly that destroying the Jewish state will be a great act for any devout Muslim.
US imposes sanctions …
Perturbed with the opaque approach of the Iranian governments towards IAEA inspections, the U.S. government imposed oil and trade sanctions over Iran in 1995. America alleged that the Iranian government sponsored “terrorism”, sought to acquire nuclear arms, and tried to thwart the Middle East process. Iran denied the charges, but the sanctions were clamped further hardening the Iranian attitude.
Since then the United States has tried, and often succeeded in making the terms of the sanction more stringent to inflict more pain on Iran.
Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech, and Iran gets deeply offended ….
In January 2002 January, the U.S. President George Bush, in a feat of arrogance, described Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil”, warning of the proliferation of long-range missiles and Weapons of Mss Destruction (WMDs) being developed in these countries. The speech caused a national outrage in Iran, and was condemned by reformists and conservatives alike.
Iran nuclear crisis, some more facts …
a. Why has the Security Council so wary of Iran’s efforts for Uranium reprocessing? Why has it ordered Iran to stop enrichment? Because the enrichment technology needed to get low level (2.5 to 3%) Uranium 235 for nuclear power generation can also be used to enrich it to the bomb grade (more than 95%) Uranium 235. Iran, by mastering the enrichment technology, can produce (or has already produced?) bomb grade enriched Uranium. Iran had successfully hidden an enrichment programme for 18 long years away from the IAEA inspection. When it came to light, the whole global community was horrified. The United Nations Security Council feels Iran’s avowed peaceful intentions must be unequivocally proved. Till that time, it must stop enrichment and certain other nuclear activities. It is mandatory for a member nation to abide by UNSC resolutions.
It has also called on Iran to ratify and implement an additional protocol allowing more extensive inspections as a way of establishing confidence.
Why is Iran so reluctant to fall in line with the Security Council resolutions? …
Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear state, has the right to enrich Uranium for use in power plants (max 3.5% enriched Uranium). But for this, Iran must comply to random and rigid inspection by the IAEA.
However, Iran stands on weak grounds on this matter. It carried on a clandestine enrichment programme for 18 years. When confronted, it could not answer all the probing questions of the IAEA inspectors. So the intentions remained suspect. Iran has done little to dispel such credibility gap between the global community and itself.
To make the matters worse, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly stressed that Iran will not yield to international pressure: “The Iranian nation will not succumb to bullying, invasion and the violation of its rights,” he has said.
What does Iran say about its suspected intentions to develop nuclear weapons? It says it would strictly abide by the obligations under the NPT and will not use the technology to make the atom bomb.
Thus, the war of nerves continues between America and the European Union on one side and the bellicose Iran on the other. Pre-emptive aerial bombing of suspected Iranian nuclear sites by America has long been on the cards. With their historical animosity towards the Ayatollah-dominated Iran, the Arab nations are mortally afraid of a nuclear Iran. They have privately lobbied hard to make America agree to this highly risky military operation. Lots of backdoor diplomacy has gone on in the last few years between the Arab governments and Washington. Wikileaks exposed some of these back and forth communications.
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