INTL CONFLICTSMIDDLE EASTOPINION

Attacks on Iran, past and present

The assassination of General Qasem Soleimani

On Friday, 3 January, 2020, progressives in the United States and all peace-loving people throughout the world were horrified to learn that Donald Tromp had added to his long list of crimes and imbicilities by ordering the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani, who is a hero in his own country, Iran. The murder, which was carried out by means of a drone strike on Friday, immediately and drastically increased the probability of a new large-scale war in the Middle East and elsewhere. Against this background, I would like to review the history of oil-motivated attacks on Iran.

The desire to control Iran’s oil

Iran has an ancient and beautiful civilization, which dates back to 5,000 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  cultured, 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 first of these took place in the period 1921-1925, when a British-sponsored coup overthrew the Qajar dynasty andreplaced it by Reza Shah.

Reza Shah (1878-1944) started his career as Reza Khan, an army officer. 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  fighting  against  the  Bolsheviks in northern Persia, masterminded a coup (financed by Britain) in which Reza Khan lead 15,000 Cossacks towards the capital.  He overthrew the government, 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 wasconstructed, many Iranians were sent to study in the West, the University of Tehran was opened, and the first 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 sufficiently critical of Hitler to offer safety in Iran to refugees from the Nazis. Fearing that the Germans would gain control of the Abadan oil fields, 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 everywhere 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 reforms made by Mosaddegh was the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s possessions in Iran.  Because of this, the AIOC (which later became  British Petroleum),  persuaded  the  British  government  to  sponsor  a secret coup that would overthrow Mosaddegh.  The British asked US President Eisenhower and the CIA to join M16 in carrying out the coup claiming that Mosaddegh represented a communist threat (a ludicrous argument, considering Mosaddegh’s aristocratic background).  Eisenhower agreed to help Britain in carrying out the coup, and it took place in 1953.  The Shah thusobtained 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 landless 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  Hussein’s  Ba’ath  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 Saddam’s 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 backing, Saddam Hussein’s government attacked Iran.  This was the start of an extremely bloody and destructive war that lasted for eight years, inflicting 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 Hussein’s government to obtain chemical weapons.

The  present  attacks  on  Iran  by  Israel  and  the  United  States,  both  actual 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 powerful  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 provocations 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.

An attack on Iran could escalate

We recently passed the 100th anniversary World War I, and we should remember that this colossal disaster escalated uncontrollably from what was intended to be a minor conflict. There is a danger that an attack on Iran would escalate into a large-scale war in the Middle East, entirely destabilizing a region that is already deep in problems.

The unstable government of Pakistan might be overthrown, and the revolutionary Pakistani government might enter the war on the side of Iran, thus introducing nuclear weapons into the conflict. Russia and China, firm allies of Iran, might also be drawn into a general war in the Middle East.

In the dangerous situation that could potentially result from an attack on Iran, there is a risk that nuclear weapons would be used, either intentionally, or by accident or miscalculation. Recent research has shown that besides making large areas of the world uninhabitable through long-lasting radioactive contamination, a nuclear war would damage global agriculture to such a extent that a global famine of previously unknown proportions would result.

Thus, nuclear war is the ultimate ecological catastrophe. It could destroy human civilization and much of the biosphere. To risk such a war would be an unforgivable offense against the lives and future of all the peoples of the world, US citizens included.

Recent research has shown that thick clouds of smoke from firestorms in burning cities would rise to the stratosphere, where they would spread globally and remain for a decade, blocking the hydrological cycle, and destroying the ozone layer. A decade of greatly lowered temperatures would also follow. Global agriculture would be destroyed. Human, plant and animal populations would perish.

We must also consider the very long-lasting effects of radioactive contamination. One can gain a small idea of what it would be like by thinking of the radioactive contamation that has made large areas near to Chernobyl and Fukushima permanently uninhabitable, or the testing of hydrogen bombs in the Pacific in the 1950’s, which continues to cause leukemia and birth defects in the Marshall Islands more than half a century later. In the event of a thermonuclear war, the contamination would be enormously greater.

We have to remember that the total explosive power of the nuclear weapons in the world today is 500,000 times as great as the power of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What is threatened today is the complete breakdown of human civilization and the destruction of much of the biosphere.

The common human culture that we all share is a treasure to be carefully protected and handed down to our children and grandchildren. The beautiful earth, with its enormous richness of plant and animal life, is also a treasure, almost beyond our power to measure or express. What enormous arrogance and blasphemy it is for our leaders to think of risking these in a thermonuclear war!

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John Scales Avery

John Scales Avery, PhD 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 Emeritus in quantum chemistry at the University of Copenhagen. His 2003 book Information Theory and Evolution set forth the view that the phenomenon of life, including its origin and evolution, that including human cultural evolution, has it background situated over thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory.

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