TEHRAN, Iran — Late last month the United States accused Iran of plotting to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington.
In the following weeks, before the release of a UN report on Iran’s nuclear capacity, the United States threatened economic sanctions and even possible strikes, condemning Iran for secretly pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
But it isn’t only Iran that is up to no good. For decades the United States has been attempting to subvert its self-made archenemy by attacking its character, infrastructure and economy, using both a propaganda campaign at home and clandestine operations abroad.
Here’s a look at some of the ways the United States has tried to bring down Iran.
1) US ousts Iran’s democratic leader
A general view of Tehran early on July 24, 2011. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)
The 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq — who was TIME Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1951— changed the trajectory of US foreign policy forever. Believing Iran was swept up in the rising tide of communism, the United States leapt into action, unfurling a multi-pronged effort to undermine the Middle East’s first credible attempt at democracy. The plan would later become the blueprint for generations of future CIA regime changes, including the current effort in the new Iran. For Iranians, the overthrow of Mossadeq is still the basis for most anti-American sentiment.
“If this operation had not been launched, we might have had a large democratic country in the heart of the Muslim Middle East all these 60 years,” said Stephen Kinzer, a columnist and author of “All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.” “I can hardly wrap my mind around what that would have meant and how different the region might look today."
2) US shoots down a civilian jetliner in Iran
An Iranian airliner which caught fire on landing at the Hasheminejad airport in Mashhad on Sept. 1, 2006. (AFP/Getty Images)
In one of the worst aviation disasters in history, the USS Vincennes entered Iranian waters in 1988 and shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 290 people on board. Although the United States has never accepted responsibility for the attack — it contends it identified the plane as an attacking F-14 Tomcat — it agreed in 1996 to pay a settlement of $61.8 million to the families of those killed in the incident.
Adding insult to injury, the United States later leveled economic sanctions on Iran that prevented the country from purchasing replacement airplane parts for its aging commercial fleet. The United States says that some of these parts could be used for military aircraft. More than 1,000 people have died in at least 20 crashes in recent years because the planes, by most standards, were unfit to fly.
A bill now before Congress would prohibit the president from allowing exemptions to the sanctions to allow the shipment of airplane parts. “This is only one of the objectionable clauses in this bill,” said Bill Beeman, a long time Iran analyst and professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota.
3) Wiping Israel off the map
Israeli soldiers take part in a defense drill simulating a missile attack near Tel Aviv on Nov. 3, 2011. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)
US officials regularly cite the statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that “Israel must be wiped off the map” as an example of the danger Iran presents.
Too bad he never said it. During a 2005 speech, which was, in all fairness, made during a conference called “World Without Zionism,” Ahmadinejad — referring to the late founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini — said: “The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.”
This and other translations suggest that Ahmadinejad was calling for a political end to the Jewish state some time down the line, not all out annihilation of the country.
Taken out of context and inaccurately translated, Ahmadinejad has since been accused of many things, including being potentially more dangerous than Hitler. Meanwhile, although Iran’s power is not benign, its military is dwarfed by Israel’s, which continues to contend that Ahmadinejad poses an extreme danger to their state.
“By now, we are all aware that Ahmadinejad is hostile to Israel,” said Reza Marashi, the research director at the National Iranian American Council. “But do his intentions and Iran's capabilities lend credence to the idea that Iran would attack Israel? No.”
4) The Stuxnet worm
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad poses with officials underneath the Simorgh satellite rocket on Feb. 3, 2010. (Rohollah Vahdati/AFP/Getty Images)
They’ll never admit it, of course, but the digital trail of the now-infamous Stuxnet computer virus, which may have set Iran’s nuclear program back by years, runs undoubtedly through both the United States and Israel and was most likely a joint venture, analysts say.
Iranian officials have decried Stuxnet as an act of “computer terrorism” perpetrated by the “domineering powers.” They could be right, say experts who believe the worm’s potency and sophistication point to a new era of warfare.
“In terms of preparation, planning and organization, Stuxnet is completely unparalleled to anything we’ve seen before,” Roel Schouwenberg, a Boston-based researcher for Russian internet security company Kaspersky Lab, told GlobalPost.
Stuxnet wasn’t a total success for the United States. Some of the operations in Iran’s nuclear program survived. But some believe the worm is not yet finished and, anyway, it was a first-generation effort. Military analysts expect more sophisticated cyber attacks to follow.
5) Women's rights
An Iranian woman walks past a mural painting of a revolver on the walls of the former US embassy in Tehran. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)
There is no shortage of horror stories repeated by US officials about the treatment of women in Iran. The most often cited are related to chastity and sexual subjugation. The government-enforced dress code, which requires women to wear an Islamic headscarf in public, is often used an example of the lack of women's rights, as is, in extreme cases, the barbaric punishments for those accused of adultery.
There is no doubt that Iran’s constitution provides fewer rights and legal protections for its female citizens than it does for its males. But while the situation for women in Iran is far from ideal, it bears little resemblance to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan — which are both American allies — where women are hardly even seen in public life.
Iranian women, by comparison, have made great strides in education and in the workplace. More than 60 percent of Iranian university students are women and offices are increasingly staffed entirely by females.
From firefighters and taxi drivers to members of parliament and two former vice presidents, Iranian women are an integral part of daily life.
6) Iran has threatened to nuke the US
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomes Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran on Oct. 27, 2009. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)
In October, presidential candidate Michelle Bachman, repeated an often heard myth in an interview with Christiane Amanpour: “Iran has also stated they would be willing to use a nuclear weapon against the United States of America. I think if there’s anything that we have learned over the course of history, it is that when a madman speaks, we should listen. And I think in the case of Iran, that is certainly true,” Bachman said.
Iran’s leaders, however, have never threatened such an attack and have always said that nuclear weapons are un-Islamic and that they don’t intend to develop, acquire or use them. Whether or not they are telling the truth is another issue.
Beeman said a lot has been written about Iran’s plans to launch an atomic attack on the United States. “It is taken as fact because it is in print,” he said, disparagingly.
Check out this detailed timeline of allegations by Western officials that Iran poses a nuclear threat. It dates back to 1979.
7) Iran is in bed with Al Qaeda and the Taliban
Iranian snipers in full camouflage take part in the Army Day parade in Tehran on April 18, 2009. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)
Countless US officials, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, have said that Iran and Al Qaeda are working together to promote international terrorism.
The latest came in July of this year when the Treasury Department accused Iran of allowing Al Qaeda to funnel money through the Islamic Republic, which was later used to fund terrorism.
“By exposing Iran’s secret deal with Al Qaeda, allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism,” said David S. Cohen, the under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department.
Besides the fundamental difference that Iran is a Shiite theocracy and Al Qaeda espouses a strictly fundamentalist Sunni ideology, which considers Shiite the ultimate bastardization of all they hold dear, no evidence of such a link has ever been presented.
“The Obama administration accused Iran of working with Al Qaeda, and then days later Al Qaeda's leadership publicly slammed Ahmadinejad for peddling 9/11 conspiracy theories,” Marashi said. “There seems to be a disconnect.”
8) Iran doesn’t do diplomacy
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is escorted at the United Nations headquarters on Sept. 19, 2010 in New York City. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
The allegation is made regularly that Iran does not take diplomacy seriously and that the US has tried repeatedly to get Iran to the negotiating table only to see Iran step away. Presumably this is a tactic to buy more time for its alleged nuclear weapons program.
A look back over the past several years, however, tells a different story. While the Islamic Republic may not be offering deals that Washington wants, they have certainly made some offers.
The first and most incredible of these came in May of 2003, just weeks after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In a letter personally delivered to Washington by the Swiss ambassador — the official intermediary between Washington and Tehran — Iran offered a range of concessions, from full access to their nuclear program and reigning in Hamas to potentially mending relations with Israel. The US never responded.
9) Sanctions, sanctions and more sanctions
Iranian women wait for a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Oct. 11, 2006. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)
After coming to office, US President Barack Obama pledged to seek ties with Iran based on mutual understanding.
“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” he said in his inaugural address.
Since the speech, Obama has pursued an aggressive policy of sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear program. The sanctions have had a profound effect on the Iranian economy, but not the segment of it — such as oil — they intend to target.
Instead, sanctions on bank transactions between Iran the rest of the world as well as embargoes on benign goods like Persian rugs and pistachios, have created financial stress on the one group the Obama administration professes to support — the Iranian people.
10) Hollywood propaganda
Iranian women hold pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei outside the former US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 2011.
Hollywood's portrayal of Iranians might not be a direct attack from the US government, but most Iranians — official and civilian alike — view Hollywood as an extension of US policy. And US officials done little to discourage the Iranian-as-bad-guy stereotype that has persisted in Hollywood for decades.
“The simple fact is that Iran is a universal bogeyman. No matter who you are in the United States, you can get away with trashing Iran. In fact, as I know very well, people who say the slightest positive thing about Iran are roundly attacked,” Beeman said.
Ever since the film “Not Without My Daughter,” which hit American screens in 1991, pretty much all Iranians have viewed Hollywood suspiciously. After all, Iranians are almost always presented as evil. Even recent films like “300” and “The Wrestler” have raised the ire of Iranians throughout the world. In the latter case, the offense was that Mickey Rourke’s character stamped on the Iranian flag that belonged to his opponent, “The Ayatollah.”