Rising Tensions Between the US and Iran

Kendall Olszowka

Tensions between the United States and Iran have existed for decades, but with the crisis of this past month, they have grown to new heights. On January 2, President Trump ordered the United States’ military to assassinate Iranian General Qassam Soleimani. Though this act seemed sudden, there had been many events leading up to it. 

America’s involvement in Iran can be traced back to the mid 20th century when it was led by prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh was against foreign involvement in Iran’s oil market, but this market was important for the British and American economies. Together, these two countries staged a coup, ultimately overthrowing Mossadegh, and bringing in the regime of the Shah. Under the Shah’s reign, the people of Iran were unhappy, as they were not allowed to express their opinions regarding the government, for fear that a member of the shah’s secret police would turn them in. The United States still supported the Shah despite this, angering Iranians even more. 

In 1979, Iranians rose up against the Shah in a revolution, never forgetting America’s role in bringing this government upon them. For over the next 30 years, tensions between these countries remained high.  The United States accused Iran of supporting terrorist activities throughout the Middle East, while Iran accused the United States of imperialist ambitions in the region. Tensions grew even further after 2000, when it became clear that Iran was developing technology that could lead to nuclear weapons.  

In 2015, the administration of President Barack Obama decided upon a Nuclear Deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which restricted Iran’s nuclear program. Restrictions regarding the amount of uranium and plutonium that Iran was allowed to have would be placed, and Iran would also allow inspectors to come in to assure that they were following these rules. In return, the United States would release funds to the Iranian government that had been frozen since the 1979 Revolution. Iran agreed to this, complying with the rules that the US set in place. Though the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran was obeying, many disagreed with the assessment and believed that Iran could never be trusted, regardless of the facts offered by the IAEA.  The agreement stayed in place, nevertheless, for another three years. 

In 2018, President Donald Trump made the major decision to pull out of the deal. He, along with many other opponents of it, believed that it was a weak agreement and very difficult to monitor. Referring to it as a “one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Trump also believed that by backing out of this deal, America would appear was more powerful when he went to meet with North Korea to discuss other nuclear relations. Iran had been involved in supporting militia groups in Iraq, many of which killed American service members, as well as supporting the Syrian government during the civil war. Soleimani, the general whom the US would eventually assassinate, was in charge of the Quds Force, a specialized military group, that led these efforts. The nuclear deal did not cover this, but proponents of the deal argued that it was important to take nuclear arms off the table. With Iran engaging in the behavior mentioned before, they believed that no concessions could be made. Iran was not happy over this. 

As the US renewed and increased the sanctions that had been previously diminished by the deal, for the next year or so, Iran began bombing various oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and was responsible for a drone strike on an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia. Though these attacks did much damage, they never killed any Americans. Fearful that one day issue they would attack Americans, President Trump formally issued a statement in which he said, the US  “will find you; we will eliminate you. We will always protect our diplomats, service members, all Americans, and our allies.”

 On December 27, 2019, an Iraqi militia group, supported by Iran, reportedly attacked an Iraqi military base, killing one American and injuring many others in the process. Though Iran claimed that they were not responsible, this attack was enough for the United States to strike back. The next day, the US attacked five bases of the militia group, killing 25 members and injuring at least 50 others. Along with this, the American Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, put out a warning to Iran about possible future attacks, but Iran did not listen, once again. Three days later, a large group of Iraqi students broke into the US Embassy in Baghdad, throwing rocks, and successfully setting fire to the main lobby. Though these students were not from Iran, it was suspected that they were supported and encouraged by Iran. Prompted by this attack, President Trump and his generals put their final plan into action: killing Qassam Soleimani. 

On January 2, 2020, General Soleimani boarded a plane, which was followed by US drones. After landing in Baghdad, he rode in a government car in which he was ultimately killed by the American drones. This sparked much discussion among Americans. While many believed that killing the General was the best option, many others were opposed. Those opposed argued the killing would not hurt Iran’s government severely, as they have many other Generals who are responsible for making decisions. They also believed that instead of waging an attack on a military official, the two countries should have sat down and had a civilized conversation. 

In retaliation, Iran fired over 20 missiles at a US military base in Iraq. Most of them hit the base, injuring 34 American soldiers. Bracing for a counterattack by the United States, Iran shot down a plane they suspected to be an American military aircraft, however it was not. Instead, it was a Ukraine International Airlines flight. 176 innocent people were killed in this attack, half of them being Iranian. To make matters worse, Iran would not initially take responsibility for the plane crash. Iranians who had been protesting the killing of General Soleimani, now turned their outrage towards their own government. 

Today, Iran is still not only in conflict with the United States government but also with its people. Though a full-blown war is not an issue yet, it is certainly a threat that continues to grow bigger and bigger as tensions rise.