The genesis of animosity between the USA and Iran can be traced to the overthrow of Iranian monarch Reza Shah Pehelvi through Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini in 1979 which established an Islamic theocracy in Iran.
By Brig N K Bhatia
Qasem Soleimani paid the price for being the overt face of Iranian belligerent designs much to the bewilderment and dismay of the US and its major allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel. The genesis of animosity between the USA and Iran can be traced to the overthrow of Iranian monarch Reza Shah Pehelvi through Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini in 1979 which established an Islamic theocracy in Iran. Earlier in 1953, Reza Shah Pahlavi had been anointed the Monarch with help of the US and Britain and was considered their protégé. He undertook massive reforms, some through coercive means, to turn Iran into a modern western looking country which was opposed by the conservative clergy operating from the holy city of Qom.
The Islamic Republic that assumed power was guided by Shia sect of Islam and established it as fulcrum of its ideological revival.
What followed the overthrow of Shah and establishment of Islamic Republic of Iran was pouring of public anger against the US on the streets of Tehran, exacerbated by the siege of US embassy and holding of 52 US officials as a hostage for 444 days, a fact touted by President Donald Trump in his threat to Iran against aggression, leading to break down of diplomatic relations between the US and Iran, putting the Carter administration in a crisis.
Since then the diplomatic relations between the two countries have remained frozen.
Iran meanwhile continued to follow an independent policy and called out for the overthrow of all Monarchies in the region and their replacement by Islamic governments, thus putting Iran in direct confrontation with the Islamic monarchies and autocratic regimes in the middle – east.
The first act of Iran was the consolidation of Shia militant groups in Lebanon in early 80s that played an important role in the civil war. They were reportedly assisted by a contingent of Islamic Revolutionary Guards. It was also held responsible for the suicide bombing attacks on the US embassy and Marine barracks in October 1983 resulting in 241 the US servicemen casualties. It was followed by another US embassy bombing in Beirut in September 1984. Since then the Hezbollah has been a constant irritant to Israel and the US. It has used irregular warfare techniques such as kidnappings, suicide bombings, kidnappings and launched missile and rocket attacks on Israeli targets in the Gaza strip. It has evolved over a period of time and assumed a political role in Lebanon. It continues to seek guidance, direction and monetary assistance from Iran.
Having become a potent force, the Hezbollah expanded its footprints in Syria and since 2011 has been aligned with the Ba’ath government, led by the Al-Assad family enabling it to defeat opposition forces and help maintain control of the country. Hezbollah has helped train Syrian forces and led Shi’ite militias in offensive operations in urban areas. Thus Hezbollah helped to preserve the Axis of Resistance, comprising Iran, Syria and itself by shoring up the military capabilities of the Assad regimen and retain access to Iranian and Syrian material support by securing the lines of communication that run from Damascus to Lebanon from any rebel interference. It also helped prevent the emergence of a Sunni-dominated regime in Syria.
In Iraq the multiple Shi’ite proxies comprise approximately 1,000,00 strong Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) that took on ISIS after the failure of Iraqi Army to do so; with the tacit support of the US. Although technically under Iraqi control, they followed Iranian directives enabling expansion of Iranian interests in Iraq. Similarly, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Badr Brigade continues to be under the influence of Iran. The proxies had a distinct imprint of Gen Soleimani who continued to guide and direct them with reasonable success including setting up a pro-Iran government in Iraq. Unable to control the situation and hostile dispensations in Iraq, the US had little option except to target the force behind increasing influence in Iraq. The attack on the US interests in Iraq during the last week of December was the opportunity it was looking to target General Qasem Soleimani.
Besides being the mentor to Hezbollah and exercising control over the current situation in Iraq, Iran is supposed to have provided support to the unrest exacerbated through the Arab Spring leading to widespread calls for regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. It again put Iran in direct conflict with Saudi Arabia. The animosity between Iran and Saudi Arabia is well known due to Iranian opposition to the Saudi royal family wielding control over Mecca and Medina and being the custodian of Islamic symbols. It has repeatedly called for regime change in Saudi Arabia.
Post Trump presidency the US has backed Saudi Arabia for its desire to play a more assertive role in Gulf and Middle-East putting it in direct conflict with Iran.
General Qasem Soleimani was the brain behind Iran’s increasing use of its proxies with the approval of the Islamic regime. He had carried on relentlessly in not too a secretive manner to expand Iranian designs little concerned about his safety that turned out to be his nemesis. His being at the helm of affairs for close to two decades and making Quds force a potent and formidable part of Islamic Revolutionary Guard made him a perfect and priced target for the US to assert its dominance in the region. In the end, it mattered little that at some stage of his career he had cooperated with America to challenge the US opponents.
(The author is Indian Army Veteran and comments frequently on the situation on India’s Western neighbourhood. Views expressed are personal.)