Attacks On Iran, Past And Present
By John Scales Avery
29 January, 2012
Iran has an ancient and beautiful civilization, which dates back to 7,000
BC, when the city of Susa was founded. Some of the earliest writing that we
know of, dating from from approximately 3,000 BC, was used by the Elamite
civilization near to Susa. Today's Iranians are highly intelligent and cul-
tured, and famous for their hospitality, generosity and kindness to strangers.
Over the centuries, Iranians have made many contributions to science, art
and literature, and for hundreds of years they have not attacked any of their
neighbors. Nevertheless, for the last 90 years, they have been the victims
of foreign attacks and interventions, most of which have been closely related
to Iran's oil and gas resources. The rst of these took place in the period
1921-1925, when a British-sponsored coup overthrew the Qajar dynasty and
replaced it by Reza Shah.
Reza Shah (1878-1944) started his career as Reza Khan, an army ocer.
Because of his high intelligence he quickly rose to become commander of the
Tabriz Brigade of the Persian Cossacks. In 1921, General Edmond Ironside,
who commanded a British force of 6,000 men ghting against the Bolshe-
viks in northern Persia, masterminded a coup (nanced by Britain) in which
Reza Khan lead 15,000 Cossacks towards the capital. He overthrew the gov-
ernment, and became minister of war. The British government backed this
coup because it believed that a strong leader was needed in Iran to resist the
Bolsheviks. In 1923, Reza Khan overthrew the Qajar Dynasty, and in 1925
he was crowned as Reza Shah, adopting the name Pahlavi.
Reza Shah believed that he had a mission to modernize Iran, in much
the same way that Kamil Ata Turk had modernized Turkey. During his 16
years of rule in Iran, many roads were built, the Trans-Iranian Railway was
constructed, many Iranians were sent to study in the West, the University of
Tehran was opened, and the rst steps towards industrialization were taken.
However, Reza Shahs methods were sometimes very harsh.
In 1941, while Germany invaded Russia, Iran remained neutral, perhaps
leaning a little towards the side of Germany. However, Reza Shah was suf-
ciently critical of Hitler to oer safety in Iran to refugees from the Nazis.
Fearing that the Germans would gain control of the Abadan oil elds, and
wishing to use the Trans-Iranian Railway to bring supplies to Russia, Britain
invaded Iran from the south on August 25, 1941. Simultaneously, a Russian
force invaded the country from the north. Reza Shah appealed to Roosevelt
for help, citing Iran's neutrality, but to no avail. On September 17, 1941,
he was forced into exile, and replaced by his son, Crown Prince Mohammed
Reza Pahlavi. Both Britain and Russia promised to withdraw from Iran as
soon as the war was over. During the remainder of World War II, although
the new Shah was nominally the ruler of Iran, the country was governed by
the allied occupation forces.
Reza Shah, had a strong sense of mission, and felt that it was his duty
to modernize Iran. He passed on this sense of mission to his son, the young
Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi . The painful problem of poverty was every-
where apparent, and both Reza Shah and his son saw modernization of Iran
as the only way to end poverty.
In 1951, Mohammad Mosaddegh became Prime Minister of Iran through
democratic elections. He was from a highly-placed family and could trace
his ancestry back to the shahs of the Qajar dynasty. Among the many re-
forms made by Mosaddegh was the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil
Company's possessions in Iran. Because of this, the AIOC (which later be-
came British Petroleum), persuaded the British government to sponsor a
secret coup that would overthrow Mosaddegh. The British asked US Presi-
dent Eisenhower and the CIA to join M16 in carrying out the coup, claiming
that Mosaddegh represented a communist threat (a ludicrous argument, con-
sidering Mosaddegh's aristocratic background). Eisenhower agreed to help
Britain in carrying out the coup, and it took place in 1953. The Shah thus
obtained complete power over Iran.
The goal of modernizing Iran and ending poverty was adopted as an
almost-sacred mission by the young Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and it
was the motive behind his White Revolution in 1963, when much of the land
belonging to the feudal landowners and the crown was distributed to land-
less villagers. However, the White Revolution angered both the traditional
landowning class and the clergy, and it created fierce opposition. In dealing
with this opposition, the Shahs methods were very harsh, just as his fathers
had been. Because of alienation produced by his harsh methods, and because
of the growing power of his opponents, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was
overthrown in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The revolution of 1979 was to
some extent caused by the British-American coup of 1953.
One can also say that the westernization, at which both Shah Reza and
his son aimed, produced an anti-western reaction among the conservative
elements of Iranian society. Iran was \falling between two stools", on the
one hand western culture and on the other hand the country's traditional
culture. It seemed to be halfway between, belonging to neither. Finally in
1979 the Islamic clergy triumphed and Iran chose tradition.
Meanwhile, in 1963, the US had secretly backed a military coup in Iraq
that brought Saddam Husseins Baath Party to power. In 1979, when the
western-backed Shah of Iran was overthrown, the United States regarded the
fundamentalist Shiite regime that replaced him as a threat to supplies of oil
from Saudi Arabia. Washington saw Saddams Iraq as a bulwark against the
Shiite government of Iran that was thought to be threatening oil supplies
from pro-American states such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
In 1980, encouraged to do so by the fact that Iran had lost its US back-
ing, Saddam Husseins government attacked Iran. This was the start of an
extremely bloody and destructive war that lasted for eight years, inicting
almost a million casualties on the two nations. Iraq used both mustard gas
and the nerve gases Tabun and Sarin against Iran, in violation of the Geneva
Protocol. Both the United States and Britain helped Saddam Husseins gov-
ernment to obtain chemical weapons.
The present attacks on Iran by Israel and the United States, both ac-
tual and threatened, have some similarity to the war against Iraq, which was
launched by the United States in 2003. In 2003, the attack was nominally
motivated by the threat that nuclear weapons would be developed, but the
real motive had more to do with a desire to control and exploit the petroleum
resources of Iraq, and with Israel's extreme nervousness at having a power-
ful and somewhat hostile neighbor. Similarly, hegemony over the huge oil
and gas reserves of Iran can be seen as one the main reasons why the United
States is presently demonizing Iran, and this is combined with Israel's almost
paranoid fear of a large and powerful Iran. Looking back on the \successful"
1953 coup against Mosaddegh, Israel and the United States perhaps feel that
sanctions, threats, murders and other pressures can cause a regime change
that will bring a more compliant government to power in Iran - a government
that will accept US hegemony. But aggressive rhetoric, threats and provoca-
tions can escalate into full-scale war.
I do not wish to say that Iran's present government is without serious
faults. However, any use of violence against Iran would be both insane and
criminal. Why insane? Because the present economy of the US and the
world cannot support another large-scale conflict; because the Middle East
is already a deeply troubled region; and because it is impossible to predict
the extent of a war which, if once started, might develop into World War
III, given the fact that Iran is closely allied with both Russia and China.
Why criminal? Because such violence would violate both the UN Charter
and the Nuremberg Principles. There is no hope at all for the future unless
we work for a peaceful world, governed by international law, rather than a
fearful world where brutal power holds sway.
1. Sir Percy Sykes, A History of Persia - 2nd edition, MacMillan, (1921).
2. Paula K. Byers, Reza Shah Pahlavi, Encyclopedia of World Biography
3. Roger Homan, The Origins of the Iranian Revolution, International
Aairs 56/4, 673-7, (Autumn 1980).
4. Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power,
Simon and Schuster, (1991).
5. A. Sampson, The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies of the World
and How They Were Made, Hodder and Staughton, London, (1988).
6. James Risen, Secrets of History: The C.I.A. in Iran, The New York
Times, April 16, (2000).
7. Mark Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne, Mohammad Mosaddegh and the
1953 Coup in Iran, National Security Archive, June 22, (2004).
8. K. Roosevelt, Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran, McGraw-
Hill, New York, (1979).
9. E. Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, Princeton University
Press, Princeton, (1982).
10. M.T. Klare, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Con
Owl Books reprint edition, New York, (2002).
11. J.M. Blair, The Control of Oil, Random House, New York, (1976).
John Scales Avery is a theoretical chemist noted for his research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. Since the early 1990s, Avery has been an active World peace activist. During these years, he was part of a group associated with the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Presently, he is an Associate Professor in quantum chemistry at the University of Copenhagen
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