It goes without saying that those Iranians participating in the on-going protests against their government must have legitimate political and social grievances, such as high unemployment rate, increasing corruption and the lack of socio-political freedoms, to name a few. Any democratic government must have an immense tolerance for such exercise of its citizens’ fundamental right to protest without making an attempt to attribute it to a nexus that involves a foreign hand. Then why is Iranian regime so reluctant and paranoid to see these protests out of its original context? Maybe it is their historical experience.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the first time in 2013 confessed about its entrenched involvement in the coup of August 1953 against the then democratically elected Iranian prime minister Muhammad Mossadegh. The information was divulged by the CIA in a series of declassified documents under the Freedom of Information Act invoked by the National Security Archives – a non-government organization. The documents reveal that an operation, codenamed Operation Ajax, was carried out “under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government,” reads a CIA internal history titled The Battle for Iran.
Mossadegh, known for his anti-colonial demeanours, was elected as the prime minister right after the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951. He pursued his policies across the expected lines that severely affected the United Kingdom’s economic and the USA’s strategic interests to dominate the region amid the Cold War. After the initial boycott of the company, the US and UK pursued a campaign to “install a pro-Western government in Iran” through a “war of nerves” which would make the Iranians believe that the deprivation from the Western economic aid would put Iran under an existential threat.
But as John Perkins in his book “The Confessions of an Economic Hitman” explains, the US would always have a backup plan in case the ‘war of nerves’ fail. He describes this as sending “jackals” or specially chosen agents in the target country to plot coups against the unwanted regimes by mobilizing a group of the local population to participate in the protests against such governments to create civil unrest. Stephen Kinzer, a known US academic and journalist, used various sources including the declassified documents and attempted to reconstruct an account of Operation Ajax. While referring to the strategy employed, he writes that the operation was carried out through propaganda, provocations, demonstrations, “false flag” operatives, paid protestors and agents of influence. “All that really mattered was that Tehran is in turmoil”, wrote Kinzer.
CIA’s own documents talk at length about the agency’s capabilities to “produce” demonstrations against various political factions in Iran. Also, the documents refer to various means such as press or media and unnamed “groups” in the country to spread propaganda to carry out campaigns of “morale sabotage” stimulating small-scale resistance to influence the political system of Iran back in the 1950s.
The evidence exists contrary to an opinion that Shah Pahlvi desired to take over the power in the country. On numerous occasions, the documents tend to suggest that.“So far Shah’s determination has not appeared” and that “his past record does not suggest that he will act” to oust Mossadegh are few of the excerpts taken from the declassified documents that act as indicators of his unwillingness to become a part of the conspiracy. Nevertheless, the continuous insistence on part of US and persistent meddling in Iran’s internal affairs through creating havoc resulted in an eventual success when Shah was installed in power in 1953, who would rule the country for more than two decades to come.
Ostensibly, it stands to reason that the interference in Iran was not an isolated incident when put in the broader canvas of cold war where both the US and the former Soviet Union battled to gain influence across the globe through proxy wars and civil unrest. Also, it can be argued that following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and the decades of a complete breakdown of US-Iran diplomatic relations after the unfortunate hostage crisis, it is reasonable to predicate on the proposition that the US has little to no influence over the Iranian politics today as it had in the past. However, there are a host of reasons indicative of incentives that the US may avail from the ongoing protests in Iran, and Donald Trump’s tweets in favour of the Iranian protestors attract more controversy, and may only make the situation worse if seen from government’s perspective.
Trump has already started backtracking from the nuclear deal that Obama administration and his Western allies had signed with Iran in 2015. Other than the genuine reservations that Trump may have vis a vis the nuclear deal, Israel’s opposition to the deal seems to be a pressing reason for the US to defy the commitments they made in the deal. The Western allies have already refused to lend support to Trump’s threats about withdrawing from the deal. Here, the US stands alone in their policy to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue. Also, in a recent Security Council’s resolution, 22 of total 28 EU countries, including UK, France and Germany, voted in favour of the resolution that condemned the US decision of moving their embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Therefore, the Iranian government is highly likely to see the ongoing political unrest being orchestrated by the US to be used as a valid excuse to withdraw from the nuclear deal, continue with economic sanctions to put more pressure, present a narrative to the Western allies to convince them that Iran truly is a “rogue” nation to put the nuclear deal in peril and also to appease Israel. It may also divert the attention of the global community from finding an early peaceful solution of the Palestine-Israel conflict, which may provide Israel more time to pursue their relentless illegal occupations in the West Bank.
US obsession with Iran’s internal affairs and its intense lobbying resulted in finally setting recent Iranian protests on the agenda of Security Council’s meeting on January 6. At the meeting, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Gholamari Khoshroo, while equating the move with “bullying” said that his government has “hard evidence” which suggest that the protests were “clearly directed from abroad.” Whether that is true or not still remains to be a question. But as Mark Twain famously said, “The history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” Therefore, considering the historical lesson that the power structure of the post-revolution era has learnt, it is likely the case that Iran’s government is probably going to deal with these “anti-revolutionary” protestors with an iron hand and more brutalization. This is fraught with a risk of increasing unrest and more violence in the country. Where the Iranian government seems to be the political manifestation of Sigmund Freud’s claim that “the paranoid is never entirely mistaken”, the Iranian people with legitimate socio-political grievances await the nation to suffer from a collective amnesia so that their concerns are not stigmatized as a foreign agenda, but are given the due respect and attention that they truly deserve.