The tension between Iran and the west goes back to the joint U.S.-British coup against the democratically elected Dr. Mossadegh, the memorable prime minister of Iran who nationalized Iran’s oil industry, in 1953. Following the Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979, the exile of the last king of Iran who was considered to be a significant U.S. ally, and occupation of the U.S. embassy as a response to the U.S. meddling in the internal affairs of Iran, the U.S. government began to apply pressure on the government and people of Iran from several different angles, including freezing Iran’s assets in the U.S., and unilateral abolition of military contracts between the two countries. The continued occupation of the U.S. embassy and taking U.S. diplomats as hostages by a group of radical university students intensified the tension between the two countries. Furthermore, the declared intended foreign policy of non-alliance to either Eastern or Western block by the Iran’s revolutionary leadership lead to both the U.S.A. and other Western powers, as well as the Soviet Union to support the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hossein who attacked Iran on the 22nd of September 1980. That war lasted till 20th of August 1988 and resulted in the death of 262,000 Iranians and a cost of $627 billion. The West also chose to ignore Saddam’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops and Iraqi-Kurdish civilians who were thought to be sympathetic to Iran.
In the past 41 years of Iran’s Islamic revolution, tension has gradually escalated, although at times the U.S. and Iran have collaborated on common interests, such as fighting terrorists (the Taliban Party in Afghanistan and ISIS in Syria and Iraq). The mutual agreement on implementation of JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a.k.a. the Iran nuclear deal) on July 14, 2015 gave hope that the four decades of distrust between the two countries might ease over time. However, the decision by President Donald Trump to unilaterally exit the agreement on May 8th, 2018, and to maximize the economic pressure by imposing crippling sanctions on Iran’s financial and oil sectors was viewed by the Iranians as an “economic war” waged against them by the U.S. government. Although it was claimed that U.S. sanctions exempted essential supplies, such and medicine, however, because of a significant decline in government revenue, widespread shortage in food, medicine and essential medical supplies were felt throughout the country.
The long-standing tension between U.S. and Iran that was set on a “no-peace, no-war” course is now turning into more intensified battles by the proxies, that may even lead to a direct confrontation. This happened after assassination of the most well-known and respected Iranian military commander, General Qassem Soleimani, by the direct order of president Trump. The assassination has been condemned by the Iranians from all political spectrum, and many Iraqis, as an act of blatant state sponsored terrorism committed by the U.S. government. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, immediately declared that Iran will retaliate with “severe revenge.” He even rejected all the intercedes, including the Swiss ambassador and Qatar authorities. In the social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) Iranians, and even Americans, were empathetically active regarding this tragedy. Anti-war protests were held in the United States. Many experts condemned the U.S. President for committing such an act of terror in a sovereign foreign land. The following objections have been raised: 1) Operation without consent of the U.S. congress, 2) Assassination of an Iranian official 11,000 km away from American soil in a third country, and 3) Assassination of a man who had devoted all of his life to fight against major drug dealers of southwest Asia and major terrorist groups such as Taliban and ISIS. Many people believe that this act, or its timing, was predominantly motivated by a dire need by the president to distract public attention from the impeachment proceedings, and that it was an attempt to increase his chance in the next presidential election. To make the matter even more complicated, president Trump subsequently announced that any action against the U.S. interests will be retaliated by destruction of 52 strategic places in Iran, including places of cultural heritage significance, an act that is considered to be a "war-crime" internationally. Many criticized the president for such a tweet. On Jan 5th, 2020, Iran announced that it will no longer recognize any limits on its nuclear program and will set its limits based on its technical needs.
The consequences of these events are quite terrifying. It will lead to the empowerment of anti-U.S. “conservative party” in the next Iran’s parliamentary election, which will take place a few weeks from now, and in the Iran’s presidential election in 2021. Moreover, while the religious supreme leadership in Iran has repeatedly declared in the past that Iran does not seek any type of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical or nuclear weapons, since it is forbidden by the Islamic faith, it is foreseeable that increasing popular demand from perceived constant existential threat by a superpower will force some elements in the government or military of Iran in promoting the nuclear energy program in an uncontrolled manner. Also, Iran will invest more in its long-range Ballistic missile projects.
Iran had witnessed recurring civil unrest in recent years that were precipitated by increasing economic hardship on its middle and lower classes, as a result of the draconian sanctions implemented by the U.S. government, as well as significant internal corruption and mismanagement of the country’s economy, confounded by social restrictions imposed by its theocracy. The recent events will marginalize and silence these legitimate public demands and will empower the hardline elements in Iran’s leadership to suppress any such movements in the face of an eminent outside threat. Also, other middle-eastern countries, in particular Afghanistan and Iraq, that have suffered greatly in recent decades from external and internal sectarian wars and sanctions, will become the battlefield for a proxy war between a global superpower and a regional superpower that will bring more pain and misery to their most vulnerable populations.
It is very conceivable that Iran will avenge the assassination of its very popular commander. A lack of response would be perceived as a sign of weakness that would persuade more brazen U.S. aggression against Iran. Thus, people of conscience and global authorities should consider the current situation as a prelude to a great tragedy – even a “third world war”. They should condemn this violence with no reservation and attempt reconciliation with the Iranians. The U.S. Congress should take their constitutional and moral responsibilities more seriously and mandate that the U.S. president should refrain from unthoughtful, bullish, emotion based, knee jerk reflexes that jeopardize the safety, security and well-being of people in the U.S. and abroad. It is time that all people of conscience unite in the notion that “might does not make it right,” and that with power comes the responsibility of having the wisdom to refrain from abusing that power. Perhaps if we had seen those who invaded Iraq on false pretenses in an independent, international war crimes court, we would not be at risk of repeating the same mistake in 2020! We hope that in this critical moment in our history that all those involved in decision making implement utmost wisdom and restraint from acts that will further escalate tension.
Bahar Bastani, M.D. is Professor of medicine-nephrology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, Saint Louis, MO, USA firstname.lastname@example.org