The History of Animosity Between Iran and the United States

To gain a better understanding of the long-term animosity between the United States and Iran, it is essential to look back in history.  In this posting, I hope to illuminate my readers on one aspect of the long history between the two nations that has led to the significant level of mistrust that has ultimately led to decades of geopolitical tension between Tehran and Washington.

During the early 1950s, there was a significant power struggle for control of the Iranian government between Mohammad Reza Shah, the eldest son of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the ruler of Iran and the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty, who took over the throne from his father on September 16, 1941 after the Soviet Union and Great Britain occupied Iran and forced Reza Shah into exile.  As you may or may not be aware, in 1951, the democratically elected Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh took over as the Prime Minister of Iran.  His political leaning was to the left of the spectrum and, as such, his government’s most notable reform was the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry which was under control of the British through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which later became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company/British Petroleum/BP).  In early August 1953, the Shah tried to dismiss Mossadegh but his attempt failed and the Shah of Iran was forced to leave the country by Mossadegh’s supporters.  As you can imagine, this did not sit well with the United States and the United Kingdom; as such, on August 19, 1953, Prime Minister Mossadegh was removed from power thanks to a joint operation by the Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service.  The United States and United Kingdom then restored Mohammad Reza to his previous position as the Shah of Iran.  Under the Shah’s leadership and to pay back his promoters from the United States, the control of Iran’s oil industry fell into the hands of an international consortium with British Petroleum having a 40 percent share and four American companies; Standard Oil of California (later Chevron), Standard Oil of New Jersey (later Exxon), Standard oil of New York (later Mobil) and Texaco each having an 8 percent share in the holding company that controlled Iran’s hydrocarbon reserves.

As a parting gift, in 1957, intelligence officers from the United States and Israel assisted the Shah of Iran with the establishment of Sazeman-i Ettelaat va Amniyat-i Keshvar (the National Organization for Intelligence and Security) better known in the West as SAVAK or the Shah’s Secret Police. SAVAK’s purpose was to provide intelligence for the Shah, providing him with information on his opponents and any opposition movements within Iran. SAVAK had the power to investigate, arrest and indefinitely detain Iranians deemed guilty of opposition to the Shah’s rule.  SAVAK also payed the role of hearing examiner, remanding prisoners to trial with many trials being held in secret and without the use of witnesses and defense lawyers.   According to 1979 testimony from Hassan Sana, a 23-year veteran of SAVAK, the Israelis wrote SAVAK’s operational manuals and the CIA trained SAVAK agents in the use of both physical and psychological torture techniques including the use of electrodes and heated needles.  At its peak, SAVAK is believed to have had as many as 60,000 agents serving in its ranks.  Following the Revolution of 1979, many former members of SAVAK were executed by Iran’s new leadership.   

Here is a fascinating article from 1978 showing how expatriate Iranians could not escape the long reach of SAVAK even in the United States, noting that the article is sourced from the CIA website:

Here is a quote from Manoutchehr Ardalan, the Iranian Embassy Press and Information Counselor from July 1978 regarding the CIA and SAVAK:

There is a tacit agreement between our two governments about our operations here and yours in my country.  On the basis of a 1959 bilateral security agreement between Iran and the United States, we are obligated to exchange information regarding the national security interests of both parties….Your CIA has been most helpful in these matters.

During its history, SAVAK exchanged information with the intelligence services of the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, France, West Germany, Pakistan, Egypt and Iraq.

Here are the pertinent pages from a 1976 publication by Amnesty International (AI) regarding Iran’s human rights record under the Shah’s rule:

AI notes that all trials of political prisoners in Iran are held before military tribunals with the accused having no rights to consult with defense counsel or any other person until 10 days before trial.  AI also noted that it was impossible to get a reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners in Iran; in October 1976, the Shah stated that there were “perhaps three thousand”, however, estimates by foreign journalists and Iranian exile groups ranged from 25,000 to 100,000 with prisoners held at one of 18 provincial prisons.  There were also other SAVAK and police prisons throughout Iran that were used for interrogations or to detain prisoners during large scale arrest events.  In many cases, prisoners are housed at locations far from their families, making their isolation even worse, particularly given that prison visits are limited to 15 minutes. 

Let’s close with three videos.  The first video shows what the Shah had to say about the use of torture in Iran during an interview with Mike Wallace:

The second video also deals with the use of torture in Iran:

The third video shows a massive celebration that took place in the Iranian desert during the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire in which occurred during October 1971: 

Here is a photo of the tent city at Persopolis which housed the VIP guests back in 1971:

…and now:

It is this extremely extravagant event that many analysts believe started the chain of events that ended with the Shah’s removal from the throne and the genesis of the Iranian Revolution.  Interestingly, the event was attended by U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew and both Princess Anne and Prince Philip, representing the British Royal family.

As you can see from the information that I have provided in this posting, Iranians have good reason to mistrust America’s agenda for their nation.  Iran has a long and recent history of being on the receiving end of Washington’s plans for the Middle East which have turned out to be significantly unfavourable for the Iranian people.  The installation of the Shah of Iran after a democratically elected leader was ousted and the establishment of his brutal domestic intelligence services can both be laid at the feet of the Central Intelligence Agency which acted at the behest of Washington.  

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