Where are western relations with Iran going?

Overthrow of the Shah 40 years ago : How Iran rose to become a great power as the state of God

The flight was officially issued as a vacation trip. But in fact it ushered in the end of a 2500 year old monarchy. When Iran's Shah Reza Pahlavi and Empress Farah boarded a plane to Aswan in Egypt on January 16, 1979 in Tehran, it was supposed to be a final farewell to their country. Less than three months later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini proclaimed the Islamic Republic.

The Shah's flight and overthrow marked a radical change in the Middle East - and the beginning of hostility between Iran and the United States. This has reached a new high under President Donald Trump. Its employees reportedly recently had the possibility of military strikes against Tehran examined.

Washington's long arm

The fates of the Shah and his country are closely intertwined with America's Middle East politics. Twelve years after Pahlavi ascended the peacock throne, the CIA, together with the British secret service, organized a coup against the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953.

In the period that followed, the Shah became an important ally and armaments customer for America. Richard Nixon once called the autocratic ruler an "old friend, a progressive head of state and a world statesman of the first order".

In Iran, many saw it fundamentally differently. Although the Shah viewed himself as a Western-oriented reformer, he made a number of enemies and had all kinds of resistance and opposition brutally suppressed with the help of his notorious Savak secret police. The West, led by the United States, supported the Shah nonetheless. Pahlavi's rule guaranteed Western corporations control of the oil industry. In addition, Iran was seen as an anti-communist bulwark against the neighboring Soviet Union.

What also upset the Iranians against the Shah and his corrupt power clique was his megalomania. Reza Pahlavi called himself "King of Kings" and performed accordingly. In 1971 he celebrated the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire with a decadent party in the ruins of the ancient capital Persepolis.

The "Great Satan"

The Shah was powerless and perplexed in the face of growing resistance to his rule. The call for the return of Ayatollah Khomeini, exiled by the Shah, grew louder. When the Shiite clergyman from exile in Paris condemned the regime in Tehran as "illegal", Pahlavi fled.

Khomeini landed in Tehran on February 1, 1979. Millions of people gave the Ayatollah a euphoric reception. The revolution had triumphed, with the Islamic Republic - a repressive state of God ruled by a clerical caste - a new era began.

As the foundation of rule, Khomeini relied not only on Islamization, but also on anti-Americanism. In this way, the mood against the "Great Satan" was specifically fueled. One consequence was the hostage-taking of US citizens in the embassy in Tehran, which lasted until January 1981. A year earlier, the US had broken off diplomatic relations with Iran and imposed economic sanctions for the first time.

Washington's support for Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the eight-year war against Iran, the death of 241 US soldiers in a 1983 attack by the Tehran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and the downing of an Iranian airliner by the US Navy in 1988 with 290 dead cemented the Iranian- American hostility. It has now reached a climax with Trump's confrontation course.

Iran's revolutionary ideology

US sanctions and the conviction that we are constantly exposed to American attacks shape the worldview of the Islamic Republic. In addition, there is an irreconcilable hatred of Israel. The memories of the close ties between the Shah and the Jewish state are mixed with the legacy of the extremely anti-Israeli Khomeini and the intention to distinguish himself as an advocate for the Palestinians in the Middle East. For years the Iranian leadership has threatened the "Zionist entity" with annihilation.

At the same time, the Shiite theocracy - surrounded by Sunni neighbors and thus potential rivals - developed a revolutionary sense of mission. Unlike in states like Saudi Arabia, the Iranians have shaken off their monarchy according to this reading and established a godly state.

The export of revolution is still a driving force behind the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic. What alarmed competitors and declared opponents like Saudi Arabia. Because Iran is actively involved, supported primarily by the foreign department of the paramilitary revolutionary guards, for example in Iraq and Syria, and thus tries to expand its sphere of influence.

Militant militia such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen are supported by Tehran with weapons and money. Iran's nuclear program and the construction of missiles with a range of several thousand kilometers are another dangerous provocation for opponents such as the US, the Gulf monarchies and Israel.

Regime with problems

Indeed, Iran is the big geostrategic winner in recent years. Despite all resistance, the mullahs have succeeded in continuously increasing their political and military influence in the region. They are getting closer and closer to their ambitious goal - to build a kind of "Shiite crescent" from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, in which Tehran has the say.

This foreign policy course has its price. Tehran's leadership is spending tens of billions in its consistent approach - money that is lacking in the troubled domestic economy and the country's 80 million inhabitants. No wonder that resentment and dissatisfaction are growing in large parts of the population.

Many Iranians complain that deploying in foreign countries is at their expense. A year ago demonstrators chanted: “For Iran, but not for Gaza, Syria or Lebanon!” Added to this is corruption and a self-service mentality among the elites. The clergy and institutions closely associated with them have created offices and foundations that are financed from the state treasury, i.e. with tax revenue.

There is not enough left for the people, complain the Iranians. The prices for important everyday goods have soared, the national currency has lost dramatically in value. Young people in particular often cannot find a job. Many are so frustrated that they resort to drugs - Iran has a massive drug problem.

None of this remains hidden from the regime. President Hassan Ruhani is one of those in the ruling clique who are trying to counteract this. After all, their power is at stake. He recently announced a 20 percent increase in public sector salaries and government aid for food purchases.

It is questionable whether that will be enough to calm the minds. Because the sanctions imposed by Trump make Iran difficult to create. After the termination of the nuclear agreement, the US president wants to use all means to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees. But at the moment it doesn't look like he will be able to do that quickly.

The reform forces have fallen behind after America's exit from the nuclear deal. The hardliners are increasingly setting the tone. The mullahs defend their power more or less successfully. Since 40 years.

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