By Neema Nourian, Contributor
As mentioned in Part One of this article, very soon into the 1979 Iranian revolution, the United States and Iran were on a path of perpetual confrontation.
This confrontation was, however, extremely one-sided: With its overwhelming military and financial power and allies all around the region, the United States had the overwhelming upper hand. On the other hand, the Iranian state was extremely fragile, facing a multitude of internal and external threats, and very few allies. Therefore, Iran had everything to lose in this confrontation, and thus for Iran, this conflict was neither sought nor welcomed. At the same time, for the revolutionary government, capitulation was out of the question, a principle that has continued to this day.
The external pressures on Iran began when America imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran soon after the hostage taking. However, US hostilities toward the new Iranian government went far beyond hostage taking. America did not want Iran’s revolutionary ideas spreading to the neighboring countries and beyond, which would have undermined US supremacy in the region. In addition, Iran’s questioning of Israel’s legitimacy as a state was a prime motive for US hostilities toward Iran.
Efforts to undermine Iran became deadly serious when Iran’s neighbor to the west, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, launched a full-scale invasion of Iran on 9/22/1980. Although this was clearly an illegal act, hardly any country or international institution condemned Iraq for its aggression. (In contrast, when years later Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the whole world, especially the US, was in uproar and went out of their way to help the Kuwaitis.)
Although Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, most Iranians felt that the invasion would not have happened without a green light from United States. In fact, it was later revealed that the United States gave far more than a green light: America provided high-tech equipment, military intelligence, and billions of dollars of economic aid to Saddam Hussein during the war. Especially painful to the people of Iran was the fact that the United States gave Iraq intelligence reports on the position of Iranian troops, knowing that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iranian troops. More than 20,000 Iranians died because of these chemical attacks, and as many as 80,000 suffered lifelong injuries. Also, during the war, USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane over the Persian Gulf, killing all the 290 civilians on board. Although the US admitted that this was by mistake, sometime later, the US government gave a medal to the commander of the shipthat ordered the shootdown. If nothing else, this was like pouring salt on the collective Iranian wound.
At the time of the invasion, Iraq was at the zenith of its power and Saddam had the financial and military backing of nearly all of the Arab states (except for Syria and Libya), the US, most of the other Western countries, and the Soviet bloc. With all these odds in favor of Iraq, Saddam Hussein and his backers expected a quick victory. Saddam’s primary goal was annexation of the oil-rich Khuzestan province of Iran, but it was also hoped that Iran would fall apart and never again be a force to reckon with, and that’s why America supported Saddam.
However, in one of the most heroic wars in all of human history, Iranians overcame all the odds, thwarted the invasion, and liberated all of Iran’s captured lands. In fact, near the end of the war, when Saddam Hussein was about to lose his throne, if not his life, the US intervened even more heavily on the side of Saddam.
The Iraq-Iran war lasted eight years and became the deadliest conventional war since World War II, and although Iran prevailed at the end, it was at an extremely high cost.
Therefore, this highly one-sided confrontation had at this point led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives and had left vast areas of Iran in ruins. Understandably, Iranians became even more convinced that the only way to survive in this hostile environment is to rely on themselves and build their defenses in any way they could. Thus, in the end, the war made Iran ever more resolute. Furthermore, it made them determined to help those groups around the region that had been subject to injustice for decades, if not centuries. Special emphasis was placed on helping fellow Shia groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and later in Yemen. Iran had dual intentions for this aid: Helping oppressed peoples and gaining reliable allies.
Much has happened since the end of the Iraq-Iran war. Pressures on Iran have continued from all sides, particularly the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states. Yet, despite all the attempts to weaken Iran, Iran has become one of the most powerful nations in the region, and in return, more aggressive in its response to external pressures.
There is, of course, much more to say about this topic, but I hope this short article illustrates the fact that in this confrontation that is now decades-long, Iran has paid by far the highest price. Therefore, contrary to what opponents of Iran would like us to believe, Iran has been primarily the victim in this conflict.