As of this writing, the
United States has been badgering Iran for almost sixty years. Openly
declaring the beginning of that cycle, in March 2000, then Secretary
of State Madeline Albright is reported to have stated: “In 1953 the
United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow
of Iran's popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadeqh.” Her modest portrayal
of the act left unstated the fact that the CIA had overthrown the popular
Prime Minister and that the act had been carried out under the leadership
of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, then CIA director
President Eisenhower’s administration averred that Mossadeqh had been
overthrown for national security reasons. However, the simpler
truth was that well ahead of other Middle East oil producers, Iran had
publicly declared intent to nationalize its oil industry and take it
away from foreign operators, then mainly British and American.
With that move, Mossadeqh initiated a process that was to mature less
than a decade later (1960-1961) into the creation of OPEC, the Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Founding members of OPEC were Iran,
Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. By 1969 there were ten members,
and in 2010 there were 12. The production and export, and of course
the pricing of petroleum would never be the same again.
The US thought it would fix the Mossadeqh problem by overthrowing the
Prime Minister and his government. In its place the United States
simply reinstalled the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi.
He was already the king in fact, who became ruler of Iran in 1941 on
the death of his father Reza Shah. In the face of rising popularity
for nationalizing the oil industry, Reza Shah Pahlavi lost policy control
over the Mossadeqh government.
But the real kink in this schematic was the western turn against Mossadeqh.
In the first year of his prime ministry (1951), Mossadeqh was popular,
referred to by Time Magazine as “the Iranian George Washington” and
lauded as the Man of the Year on the cover of Time. That obviously
was before it became clear to official Americans that he was an Iranian
nationalist who would—with the help of the Iranian parliament (Majlis)—take
control of Iran’s oil industry from its British and American managers.
When he moved to nationalize the oil industry both the British and the
Americans were outraged and the coup was arranged by an American team
under Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. with British help.
Following the 1953 coup the United States reconfirmed the Shah of Iran
as Iran’s head of state. An immediate question was what would
happen to Mossadeqh’s nationalization of the oil industry, and how would
that sit with the growing body of popular Iranian support for a petroleum
industry that would belong to the Iranian people. Under the deal
struck by Reza Shah in the 1930s, the Shah and his cohorts were well
taken care of (the pattern for dealing with the ruling class everywhere
in the oil producing region) but there were no royalties to the Iranian
people. Evidently under heavy pressure from his US and British supporters
the Shah prevented Iranian parliamentary approval of a 50-50 oil revenue
sharing plan between the oil companies and Iran.
Even so, not long thereafter, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia began
meetings—nominally within the Arab League Petroleum Bureau in Cairo,
Egypt—with a goal basically to nationalize regional oil production.
Those meetings began in the latter part of 1960, and they included representatives
of Egypt and Lebanon as well as Venezuela. Key players included Iraq’s
Adnan Pachachi, Iran’s Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Lebanon’s Emil Boustani, Saudi
Arabia’s Abdullah Tariki, Egypt’s Mohamed Selim, Venezuela’s Perez Alfonso,
and a Kuwait al Sabah family member. As a young economic officer
of the US Embassy, I was an avid follower of these discussions—as close
as a westerner could get to them. I think that Adnan Pachachi is the
only presently living member of the original OPEC club.
Restoring the Shah did not really calm Iran’s troubled waters. National
sentiment for kicking outsiders out of Iranian political life and for
making the oil industry wholly Iranian continued to bubble, and so far
as Iran’s young nationalists and their growing revolutionary movement
was concerned, the situation had to change, and it was only a matter
These thoughts were not squelched by the Shah’s creation—with US and
Israeli help—of his spy agency Savak. The Savak agents were brutal
in their efforts to root out and suppress political opposition. In effect,
Savak became the Iranian Mossad and acquired a similar record for human
rights violations. However, it appears very likely that Savak
behavior only added to revolutionary energy.
Despite the Shah’s repressive efforts, in 1960 Iran emerged as a key
player in creating OPEC. When OPEC creation was announced, it
was not clear how rapidly it’s key move—nationalizing all of the region’s
oil industries—would actually be finalized. Indeed some time passed
as OPEC expanded its membership, defined its personality, and struggled
through relationships with downgraded private oil companies.
In the meantime Egypt went out for western company bids on the
opening of that country’s Western Desert to oil exploration. While
nationalist movements clamored for ownership of the industry, the technology
still resided with the major western companies, and relationships would
emerge that recognized this reality. After all, the supply side
(more than half OPEC) and the buyer, refining and marketing side (almost
entirely Western) had to get together for oil markets to work.
Relations between Iran and Britain as well as with the United States
were, at the very least, tense. However, the Shah continued to
be well settled as the principal US ally in the region.
That more or less stable condition began to erode as the Shah concluded
that in the interest of his country he (oil exporter) could not be on
the same side as the United States (oil importer) on matters such as
oil pricing. Basically he could play that game for the US only by agreeing
to send money to the United States via the spigot of low oil prices.
While he was under pressure from the US to do that, he refused.
Events took a Middle Eastern turn in 1973. When Israel launched
the Yom Kippur War and the US began to resupply Israeli war fighting
needs, the Arab countries in OPEC launched an oil embargo which had
the effect of sharply raising prices and limiting supplies worldwide—a
mess the Japanese called the “oil shock”. The immediate effect
of the shock was a disruption of oil flows worldwide, but the long term
effect of that shock was the affirmation by OPEC members that they had
the leverage to raise oil prices to their advantage, and with a little
rigging their share of the global market was big enough to keep prices
where OPEC wanted them. Here began the long term reign of high
oil prices that persists today. OPEC essentially agreed among
its members on how much each member would sell and what the club would
charge for it.
However, the issue of who owned and should reap the benefits of Iran’s
oil wealth remained potent. Agitation continued through the Shah’s second
reign, and a real revolution slowly took shape. In January 1979 the
Shah (ill with cancer at the time) came under growing pressure for change
and departed Iran for the United States. The revolutionaries rapidly
Americans seem startled by the fact that the Iranian revolutionaries
saw fit to take over the American Embassy in Tehran. However, most people
in the United States had no idea just how rigorously American and British
players manipulated the Shah. In essence, the Iranian revolution
was as much against US and British meddling in Iranian affairs as it
was against the Shah who was so manipulated by outsiders. The young
rebels were seeking to take their country under the control of Iranian
The revolutionaries said they were prepared to release the American
hostages if the US returned the Shah to Iran for trial. But that announced
goal aside, revolutionaries appear to have concluded that they needed
some leverage over the Americans to stop US meddling in Iranian affairs.
Taking the American officials of the Embassy hostage was the only real
lever they saw. Holding the hostages for more than 400 days enabled
the movement to gain control of Iran without, as they saw it, outside
interference from the most likely source. Jimmy Carter sought to disrupt
that state of mind by a failed attempt to rescue the hostages in late
April 1980, but nothing appears to have interfered with the effort of
young revolutionaries to hang on to their hostages. Meanwhile,
they went laboriously through American Embassy documents, both shredded
and un-shredded. That appears to have given them all the proof
they needed of US manipulations. After negotiations they did return
the hostages, cleverly timed to coincide with Ronald Reagan’s inauguration
in January 1981.
But all of that was thirty years ago you might say. Why has the
animosity persisted? The short answer to that question is matters between
the Iranians and the Americans only got worse. For starters, beginning
in September 1980 the US supported Iraq in starting a war with Iran.
On a premise that Iran would be an easy mark immediately after the revolution,
Iraq invaded and for the first couple of years seemed to be on top of
it. By the end of that period, however, the Iranians, with a much
larger population than Iraq, had gotten their act together. The tide
turned. For the remainder of this 8 year conflict the initiative
lay with the Iranians.
The Iran-Iraq War was practically over when on July 3, 1988 the USS
Vincennes shot down an Iranian Airliner over Iranian waters, killing
all 290 passengers and crew on board. Vincennes crewmen said they
confused the A-300 Airbus for an Iranian F-14 fighter plane. Since the
US and Iran were the only countries flying the F-14, and that fighter
was to say the least miniscule compared to an Airbus, the Vincennes
crew story sounded pretty thin. However, Iran could not effectively
challenge it. The United States finally settled outstanding claims in
1996, but the US has never apologized. Saying something thoughtful like
“we are sorry” was apparently not considered appropriate by US leadership.
Here we run into a war enumeration problem. Some people consider
the Iran-Iraq war to be the First Gulf War. Since the United States
was involved at least on the Iraqi support side of that engagement,
this counting works. However, the Second Gulf War was a bit different.
Fought in 1990-91, this war was a conflict between Iraq and a US-led
and largely political coalition of some 34 countries to end Iraq’s invasion
of Kuwait. It was a success as far as it went. The Third Gulf War was
initiated in 2003 by US Operation Iraqi Freedom to liberate Iraq from
Saddam Hussein. Although that mission was accomplished in a matter of
weeks, the US still has forces in Iraq nine years later.
The United States remained in Iraq after the fall and execution of Saddam
Hussein with the stated objective to assure establishment of a democratic
government in Baghdad. However, since the Hussein government had been
led by Sunni Muslims and the majority of Iraqis are Shia Muslims, a
leadership transformation had to occur. That government today
is at best a work in progress.
That the majority of Iraqis are Shia Muslims and the holiest sites of
Shia Islam are in Iraq has greatly complicated Iraq’s political reformation.
At the same time it has given Iran a window on Iraqi life that it was
unable to exploit throughout Saddam Hussein’s regime. That fact
has cast a shadow on US efforts to help the Iraqis achieve national
unity, because Iraqi Shia Muslims look eastward to Iran for spiritual
leadership. The physical boundaries between Iraq and Iran have become,
to say the least, porous, while US leverage has been correspondingly
Meanwhile, the Israelis, who have been assiduously spying on Iran with
the help of Kurdish connections in northern Iraq, are promoting a different
gambit for curbing Iranian power and influence in the region. For years
the Iranians have been pursuing low level work on nuclear energy.
As they aver, under the terms of the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty,
the Iranians have the right to spin up centrifuges to refine raw uranium
at least up to the low levels necessary for electric power generation.
As early as the restored reign of the Shah, Iran has had known interest
in developing nuclear capabilities. The Shah apparently was seeking
nuclear weapons and present Iranian leadership is accused, particularly
by Israel and the United States, of working toward creating nuclear
Current accusations are based on IAEA (the International Atomic Energy
Agency) analysis that appears to be at least five to seven years old
and even that is ambiguous. Successive visits by IAEA professionals
have been unable either to define Iranian intentions or to pinpoint
any Iranian processes that definitively point to weaponizing. An IAEA
team entered Iran on February 20, 2012 to try to improve its picture
of Iranian intentions and activities. In the same time frame Iran
announced that it had fabricated and installed its first nuclear fuel
The situation is that Israel now faces a number of hard facts.
First, approaching 75-80 million people, Iran has a population more
than ten times the Jewish population of Israel. Second, with 35-40%
of the world’s Shia, Iran is the seat of Shia Islam. It is the
protector of the holiest of Shia sites at Karbala and Najaf in Iraq,
which gives it an influential spiritual role in the lives of roughly
250 million Shia Muslims worldwide. Third, Iran is the spiritual, not
the political, leader and a supporter of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s
Hamas—both now successful Shia Muslim political parties. Hezbollah is
now a leading figure in Lebanon’s political system. Hamas has the lead
political role in Palestine’s Gaza Strip, and it has a sizeable minority
following in the Palestinian West Bank.
Fatah, the Mahmoud Abbas led principal party in the West Bank, and Hamas
have just entered into an agreement to form a unity government. Israeli
objections to a Palestinian unity government aside, both Fatah and Hamas
have clearly articulated the agenda for the Palestinian people. Israel
does not want to talk to Hamas, and the reason is simple: Hamas
wants all the issues concerning any future peace agreement on the table,
no holds barred, from the first day of any talks. For decades Israel
has gotten away with postponing discussion of the critical issues: (1)
Territory—that is fixing boundaries, (2) the right of return for displaced
Palestinians or compensation, (3) the formation of two states with (4)
both capitals in Jerusalem. Abbas and Fatah have temporized, thus allowing
Israel repeatedly to postpone decisions on those matters, whereas Hamas
makes it clear that those issues must be on the table from the beginning
of any talks. Ergo, to the Zionists, Hamas is anathema.
Israel’s gambit in these circumstances has been to change the subject.
Trying to nudge the US toward action against Iran, for months Israel
has tried to link a settlement with Iran—whatever that would be—to any
further movement on the Middle East peace process.
Meanwhile, Israeli hawks have been watching Iran’s nuclear program with
a jaundiced eye, and they have presented the Iranian nuclear program
as “an existential threat” to Israel. Working with an Iranian terrorist
group MEK to identify and assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists, the
Israeli premise is that if Iran achieves a bomb it will drop that bomb
on Tel Aviv. Nobody except the Israeli paranoids suggest the Iranians
would risk their country in that manner. Numerous high level present
and former Israeli officials have labeled the idea of any Iranian attack
as nonsense. However, any alleged threat plays well in the media of
the United States. Moreover, such a threat fits the Israeli posture
of victimhood that Zionists have used for decades to bamboozle the West.
At the end of sixty years, the threat of military assault, possibly
an Israeli nuclear attack, hangs over the people of Iran. Israel has
an estimated 300 nuclear weapons, and the unspoken threat that they
might use one or more on Iran hangs in the air. In an American presidential
election year, our country has few active politicians who will publicly
contradict Israel’s arguments or reject its proposed gambit. Thus
Israeli paranoia—the guilty mirror image of sixty years of Palestinian
repression—may well dictate the next move.
As the truth of the situation of the Palestinian people has become much
clearer, the task of the Israelis to defend their continuing oppression
of the Palestinians while continuing to steal their land has become
much harder to defend. The broad Israeli approach is to deflect
attention from it. In the middle of the past decade the Israeli effort,
with American support, was to focus attention on Lebanon and the role
of the Shia group Hezbollah while they pursued systematic destruction
of Hamas in Gaza. That effort came a cropper when the result proved
to be that much of Lebanon physically was destroyed by Israeli bombing,
but the role and the political power of the enemy Hezbollah was materially
enhanced. In short, Israel won battles, but lost the war.
Israel has had a similarly awkward experience with Hamas in the Gaza
Strip. Successive Israeli assaults on the largely unarmed population
of the Gaza Strip have virtually destroyed Gaza’s economic infrastructure,
but those military excesses have resulted in increasing the power and
influence of Hamas. In effect, it appears that the idea of Hamas
is now imbedded in the minds of the Palestinian people. Destroying the
Gaza infrastructure challenges Hamas to extreme orders of effort to
help its people, while demonstrating that the Palestinians trust and
respect Hamas. In addition to Lebanon, Gaza is Israel’s second major
engagement with winning battles while losing the war.
In the sober estimate of many observers, any Israeli or US supported
attack on Iran would turn out the same way. There is no question
that both the US and Israel have the equipment to do Iran significant
damage in air and missile attacks. However, it seems increasingly
clear that the weight of opinion, especially in the Middle East region,
would favor Iran. In short, the Israelis—with or without US involvement—could
do significant damage to Iran at the expense of shooting themselves
and the region in the back. Continued heavy threats against the
Iranians will simply accelerate any movement of Iran toward acquiring
a nuclear weapon and consolidate Iranian support around that objective.
However, Iran’s politico-religious leaders are not fond of weaponizing.
Therefore, a smarter US/Israeli strategy is to back off, cool the situation
and convince the Iranian leadership that they do not need nuclear weapons.
If that approach is demonstrably genuine, it is likely to carry the
The writer is the author of the recently published work, Palestine:
In Need of a Just God, now available on Amazon in print and Kindle versions,
and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign
Service Officer of the US Department of State whose overseas service
included tours in Egypt, Syria, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and
Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the
Department of International Studies of the National War College and
as Deputy Director of the State Office of the Ambassador for Counter
Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at firstname.lastname@example.org