Donald Trump hates the Iranian people
12 questions and answers on the conflict between Iran and the United States
War between Iran and the United States is now more likely than it has been in 40 years.
It all started when two tankers caught fire in the Gulf of Oman on June 13th. Iran and the United States accused each other. Then the situation escalated: the Americans announced that they would be relocating 1,000 additional soldiers to the Middle East. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard shot down an American reconnaissance drone - allegedly it was in Iranian airspace (which the Americans deny).
The high point for the time being: About a week after the attack, President Donald Trump authorized a military strike against Iran - and withdrew the authorization minutes before the attack.
Why is the situation so dangerous? Can there be a war? Where does the hostility of both states come from? And what could bring about peace?
25 KR readers sent me questions that interest them most about the Iran-US conflict. I have used them as the basis for this text. After reading this, you understood where the tension between Iran and the United States came from.
1. The trigger for the crisis was the fire of two tankers. What exactly happened?
On Thursday morning, June 13th, 2019, two ships caught fire in the Gulf of Oman: the “Kokuka Courageous”, which had loaded methanol and is operated by a Hamburg shipping company, and the oil tanker “Front Altair” operated by a Norwegian shipping company. Both operators spoke of explosions that would have led to the fire. The crews of both ships could be saved.
2. And who was to blame?
Iran and the United States blame each other. The President of the Iranian Parliament Ali Larijani alleged that the US was responsible for the explosions. He said the actions "appear to complement US economic sanctions". He did not provide any evidence to support the testimony.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran. The Pentagon released a video allegedly showing an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded detention mine from one of the two tankers - to clear up tracks. Iran rejects that.
3. Can this be verified independently?
Both the “Kokuka Courageous” and the “Front Altair” could be found on the “Marine Traffic” tracking platform. The company tweeted the route the two ships had taken that ended in the Gulf of Oman. Users of the platform assigned the images of the burning ships to the two tankers.
What cannot be proven: Whether the object that can be seen on the video published by the Pentagon is really an unexploded detention mine. The director of the investigative research bureau "Bellingcat" writes in a guest post for the New York Timesthat it was not clear whether the object on the outer wall of the ship was a mine, nor that it had been installed there by the Iranians.
4. Can there be a war now?
The answer is: by mistake. This does not mean that the Americans accidentally invade Iran. Officially, it is said of all the major powers in the region, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States, that they are not interested in a war. But: You could slide into a conflict. With no diplomatic contact between Iran and the United States, a local incident could be enough to start a war.
There are groups on both sides for whom war is interesting: In the US, John Bolton, National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, is known for his tough stance on Iran. In Iran, the Revolutionary Guards in particular are hardliners. Some of its members believe that they could actually defeat the United States in a war in the Gulf.
In this podcast the New York Times you can hear more about the role of John Bolton.
And an arbitrary adventure from this powerful militia group is not unlikely. During the negotiations that led to the nuclear deal with the West, the missile tests on the missiles read, "Israel must be wiped out," in Hebrew. A similar action would not be overlooked today.
5. Who are the Revolutionary Guards?
The Revolutionary Guards are a military unit that is supposed to protect the regime. Actually, according to the constitution, they are not allowed to participate in politics. But before that they had many ministers in the elected governments. They are now the most effective instrument used by the “Supreme Leader” - the political and religious head of the predominantly Shiite country - Ali Khamenei to suppress his opponents, manipulate the elections and blackmail the elected president.
In Iran there are - to put it simply - two groups of powerful institutions. On the one hand there is parliament and government, which result from direct elections; on the other hand are institutions appointed by the country's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei: including courts, the military, the so-called Guardian Council (a kind of Islamic Politburo) and the Revolutionary Guards. The moderates or reformers usually sit in the elected institutions. The other positions are occupied by hardliners. One problem is: the candidates for parliament and president have to be approved by the Guardian Council. This is what the constitution says. So the system is only halfway democratic.
6. At the end of April, the US government tightened sanctions against Iran. How do they affect the conflict?
In Iran, many believe that the war began a long time ago - as an economic war. Both politicians like President Hassan Rouhani and common people call this kind of sanctions a war. In 2018, the value of the Iranian currency against the dollar fell by half. Renting costs in big cities are no longer affordable for many, and more and more people are dreaming of emigrating.
And there is also a problem: when the pressure from outside increases, the hardliners usually take this as an opportunity to knock down their competitors even harder. Sanctions and threats of war mean that the moderates lose power.
7. Where does the enmity between the US and Iran come from?
The conflict is old. In 1979 the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, called the USA the "Great Satan". That is the name of the United States in the official language of the regime to this day. In November 1979 a group of Iranian students captured the American embassy in Tehran and took 52 diplomats hostage. For 444 days. Khomeini supported this. The students called for the extradition of the former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was in the United States. In April 1980, the Americans tried to free the hostages, but the operation failed due to a sandstorm. The Ayatollahs in Tehran saw this as a gift from God. US President Jimmy Carter broke official diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980 - nothing has changed to this day. But the causes of the conflict lie even deeper.
8. That started earlier?
Yes. As this time series shows, the CIA and the British secret service MI6 overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in a military coup in 1953. Mossadegh had expropriated the British Anglo-Persian Oil Company.
After the successful coup, the Shah returned to the country and established an authoritarian regime. He suppressed the opposition and the media, banned many parties. Mossadegh was imprisoned for three years and then placed under lifelong house arrest.
Kermit Roosevelt Jr., co-organizer of this coup, wrote in a book that the Shah thanked him and said, "I owe my rule to God, my people, my army and you." There is a joke in Iran about it : The order is reversed. Many Iranians see the 1953 coup as the most dramatic political event in the history of modern Iran. In her opinion, it has postponed democratization for decades.
9. Okay, the two states are enemies. But do the people of Iran also hate Americans?
There is a love-hate relationship with the Americans in Iran. A large part of the people would like Western values and culture, but cannot get rid of the thought that without US intervention, Mossadegh could have started a process of democratization as early as 1953.
Today's critics of the regime believe that without this coup there would never have been a revolution against the Shah, who handed power over to the mullahs; the current regime, on the other hand, uses this British-American intervention as an instrument to further stoke hostility against America. If there is one thing that leftists and Islamists in Iran can agree on is anti-imperialism: and that means being against America.
10. Has there never been détente between the two countries?
Occasionally. In September 2013, the presidents of the two countries, Barack Obama and Hassan Rohani, spoke on the phone. It was their first conversation with each other. What's more, it was the only phone call between the presidents of the two countries since the 1979 revolution. Obama and Rouhani talked about the Iranian nuclear program, and two years later there was the nuclear deal. The Supreme Leader of Iran criticized the conversation. And since then there have been no more conversations.
11. What role does Israel play?
In the thinking of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, Israel played a decisive role from the beginning. In the first speech that made the public known as Khomeini - that was in 1963 - he accused the Shah of "wanting to uproot Islam with the help of the Americans and Israelis". Khomeini revered Palestine as “a centerpiece of Islam” and declared the last Friday of Ramadan to be “al-Quds day”.
Since then, state demonstrations have been organized every year on this day all over the Islamic world and the “liberation of Quds” - that is, Jerusalem - from the Zionist occupiers ”has been demanded. Sometimes also the destruction of Israel. In Iran it is an absolute no-go to talk about a normal relationship with Israel. And since the US is dedicated to defending Israel's interests, the conflict is obvious.
12. How can there be a peaceful relationship between the US and Iran?
Even if Iran abandons the nuclear and missile program, improves the human rights situation (or somehow convinces the West to overlook them, as in Saudi Arabia) and ends the destabilization of the region, normalizing relations with the US would not be easy. Because the destruction of Israel belongs to the core of the Islamic Republic.
Yasser Arafat, the first president of the Palestinian territories and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is described in the language of the regime as a traitor for having engaged in peace negotiations with Israel. So, even if the Palestinians want to negotiate themselves, Iran will stick to its tough course: Israel must be destroyed. And as long as it stays that way, a peace perspective is hardly conceivable.
Before I wrote this text, I asked the KR community to send me the questions they were most interested in. Thanks to all who participated. Special thanks to: Frank, Dieter, Susann, Adrien, Hans, Alex, Sarah, Simon, Paola, hjw, Rüdiger, Niko, Florian, Bastian, Nathanael, Ingrid, Oliver, Günther, Rainer, Volker and Torsten.
Editor: Philipp Daum; Final editing: Vera Fröhlich; Photo editor: Martin Gommel.
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