The relationship between the United States and Iran has been rough for decades. With the recent killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, tensions between the two nations have grown to concerning levels. While hostilities seem to have calmed down for the moment, it is still clear that the issues between Washington and Tehran have yet to be resolved.
Current Conflict with Iran
President Donald Trump recently approved an airstrike that killed Soleimani outside of an airport in Iraq. The military action was unexpected, but an indication of the devolving relationship between the U.S. and Iran.
Soleimani was one of Iran’s top generals and a significant contributor to terrorism across the globe. He recently masterminded a series of attacks against U.S. troops in the region, one of which killed a defense contractor working with Washington. According to the intelligence community, the general was planning on carrying out more attacks against the U.S., which is why the president ordered his killing.
Iran has since struck back at the U.S., launching missile attacks on American military bases in Iraq. President Trump explained that Iran appears to be standing down after their retaliatory strike, but it is possible that Tehran might have plans for other actions against the U.S.
History of U.S./Iranian Relations
Relations between America and Iran began souring in 1953, when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) brought about the ousting of Iran’s prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq. It was a response to Tehran’s decision to nationalize the country’s oil industry. This means that the nation’s government was seeking to take control of the entire oil economy instead of continuing to allow it to be handled by private companies.
In 1979, the Iranian revolution took place. An Islamic movement, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, rose up to remove the country’s Shah (basically a king) from power. After the conflict was settled, the citizens of Iran voted to create the Islamic Republic of Iran, which still stands today.
The revolution led to another significant conflict between the U.S. and Iran when protesters took over the American embassy, seizing 52 hostages. This action prompted President Jimmy Carter to order a military operation to rescue the hostages. Unfortunately, the initiative failed due to a series of events involving equipment failures and a sandstorm. However, these individuals were held in captivity for 444 days until January 1981, when they were freed.
Things got worse for U.S.-Iranian relations when an American warship shot down an Iran Air flight in 1988, killing 290 passengers. The victims were Muslim pilgrims traveling to Mecca, which is an Islamic holy site in Saudi Arabia. The United States stated that the shooting was an accident; the plane was mistaken for a fighter jet.
After the 9/11 terror attacks in New York, tensions again increased due to Iran’s longstanding support of various terrorist groups like Hezbollah, which operates globally but is based in Lebanon. It was also revealed that the country was building nuclear facilities and a uranium enrichment plant. This raised suspicions that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.
Under Obama’s presidency, some believed that ties between the U.S. and Iran might improve when a nuclear deal was forged between the U.S., the European Union, and Iran. But many criticized the deal, which mandated that Tehran would not develop nuclear technology for ten years. They stated that such a deal only prolongs the inevitable: Iran becoming a nuclear power. Later, President Trump pulled the United States out of the deal, claiming that it was an ineffective way to prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons.
Last year, Iran began targeting oil tankers from various nations in the Gulf of Oman after Trump reimposed sanctions on the country’s government. In June 2019, Iranian forces shot down an American military drone over the Strait of Hormuz.
Each of these incidents led up to the killing of General Soleimani, who was responsible for the deaths of over 600 American soldiers. For the time being, it appears there won’t be further military action — at least not in the near future. But the conflict between the U.S. and Iran is far from over.