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Wed, 08 Apr 2020

Northeast Today


February 22
12:15 2020

Tehran’s street was packed with mourners as a sea of people shouting slogans of ‘Death to America’, turned out to pay their respects to Qaseem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad’s international airport on 3rd January 2020. Soleimani was assassinated in a US drone strike on the orders of US President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the Middle Eastern country has raised the blood-red ‘flags of revenge’, vowing to retaliate the death of the General. Iran responded back to the killing of the General by launching missiles on 8th January at Iraqi bases used by the US military. The escalating tension between the two countries have heightened fears of a conflict with far-reaching implications. Mumeninaz Zaman reports.


The Background

The tussle between the  two  nations   has   been  a   tricky   one   since  the 1953 coup ousting Iran’s nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh and re-installing, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who  maintained a cordial relationship with the US.    Mossadegh    championed the  cause  of   nationalizing   the   massive   British-owned  oil company in Iran and strongly opposed any foreign involvement in Iran, particularly in its oil industry. Considered as one of the most lucrative British  enterprise  anywhere  on the planet, the British got furious and sought the help of the Americans to overthrow Mossadegh. The two western nations, through a covert operation of the CIA called Operation Ajax, conducted from the  American  Embassy in Tehran backed a coup that replaced Mossadegh with the Shah of Iran.

When the Iranian Revolution took over in 1979, forcing Shah to flee to the US, a student group seized the US embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days, demanding the Shah’s return. These two events- US meddling in Iranian politics and the hostage crisis ushered in four decades of rivalry between the two countries. This was followed by the accidental shot down of an Iranian passenger jet; imposition of various sanctions and the declaration by then-President George W. Bush that Iran was part  of  an “axis of evil”. American presidents have tried different strategies to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, a struggle that underpins the latest exchange of hostilities. But it was the clashing policy aims of the new Iranian government and the US that truly locked in their rivalry.

Nuclear fears and sanctions

Iran  and  the  US  don’t  fight face-to-face instead they antagonise each other. Iran  gets involved in the conflicts around the Middle East by backing armed groups and US rivals like  Russia.  However,  the main weapon  for  the  US  is the sanctions. One simple definition of the sanction is an official order taken against a country in order to make that country obey international law. That includes a ban on travel, transactions and trade and in Iran’s case, it’s all of those. The hostage crisis led to the very first round of sanctions on Iran with the US freezing billions of dollars in Iranian government assets.

Over the next several decades, Iran came under more international sanctions over human rights abuses and for funding billions of dollars to armed groups in the middle east. However, Iran’s  decision of developing nuclear power, got the US worried because Iran has the tools to build a nuclear bomb. Iran’s clandestine uranium enrichment program raised concerns that it might  be intended for non-peaceful uses in the 2000s. Since 2003, a nuclear crisis has been brewing between Iran and the US. In 2011 the US together with the UN issued massive economic sanctions to put a halt on nuclear developments.

In 2015 after a long and tough negotiations, a deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear work in exchange for relief from the economic sanctions imposed by countries worried it was trying to develop a nuclear bomb. However, in May 2018, Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 internationalagreement and began reimposing old sanctions and adding  new  ones. Iran responded a year later by violating the deals’ limits on uranium enrichment. In July 2019, Iran confirmed that it had surpassed agreed caps on uranium stockpiles  and exceeded the allowable level of purity and also added new enrichment capacity. Iran was further suspected of being behind a drone and the cruise missile assault on Saudi Arabian oil facilities in September 2019, which Iran denies. Pursuant to this, the latest series of attacks and reprisals began.

The aftermath

Iran  has  been  producing  oil at the slowest clip  since 1986, making  the  sanctions one of the biggest challenges confronting its economy since 1979. The sanctions have fueled inflation and undermined domestic support for the present government, which negotiated the nuclear deal. The nuclear deal was supposed to yield economic advantages for Iran, but renewed US sanctions have  shattered that expectation. 40 years after the revolution, the Iranian people remain marginalized as western sanctions continue to cripple the economy and basic infrastructures.

The economic effects of the decision on countries like China, India, South Korea and Turkey, the leading buyers of Iranian oil, is that they will surely be affected in a very negative way due to the rise in oil prices since they are all foreign-dependent in terms of energy. The countries in question are also concerned about the fact that the US administration is increasingly using economic sanctions as an instrument of power politics, since they have been subjected to economic pressure by Washington in the recent period.

Considering the fact that neither country wants a full- blown conflict, but the clashing policy aims and proxy wars should not be discounted. More so when both the countries threatened each other and America continues to impose fresh sanctions on Iran.



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