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What was Operation Ajax?

Operation Ajax was a CIA operation against Iran.
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  • Written By: Jessica Hobby
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  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2014
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In August of 1953, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) executed a coup against Mohammad Mossadegh’s democratic government in Iran. The CIA code name given to this coup d’état was Operation Ajax. Operation Ajax remains important in world history because it is often believed to be the initial cause of anti-Western sentiment in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

From the time when London based financier William D’Arcy struck oil in Iran in 1908, the British, at the height of the imperial power, had succeeded in imposing the Anglo-Persian Agreement on successive regimes in Iran. This agreement gave Britain complete control over Iran’s army, treasury, transport system, and communications network. In 1951, Mossadegh, firmly against Britain’s colonial exploitation of his homeland, fought to nationalize the oil industry of Iran. As one may imagine, the British were, to say the least unhappy with Mossadegh’s efforts.

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Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, who was adamantly trying to keep control of the oil in Iran, looked to the United States for help. In was not until the inauguration of Dwight Eisenhower in January of 1953 that Winston Churchill received the support that he was looking for. It is believed that Eisenhower offered support because he viewed a possible Russian invasion in the weak state of Iran as a Cold War Threat. Newly appointed United State Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, and his brother, Allen Dulles, who was Deputy Director of the CIA worked closely with the CIA field commander, Kermit Roosevelt, to plan the coup against Mossadegh, which after one failed attempt became a success in August of 1953.

The success of Operation Ajax restored power to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who depended heavily on the U.S. for arms and for aid to further develop the oil of Iran. With increased oil revenues from more development and trade embargos removed by Britain, Iran experienced a drastic improvement in their economy. The Shah used the oil money to further Westernize Iran, and the more unpopular he became the more power he exerted, eventually leading Iran as a dictator.

It is debated by numerous scholars from around the world if Operation Ajax and the restoration of the unpopular Reza Shah to power, was the beginning of ill feelings towards the US in Iran and led to the Iranian Hostage Crisis in which 52 hostages were held inside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days. The aftermath of Operation Ajax is also believed to be the roots of the Iranian Revolution in which, Reza Shah went into exile and the anti-Western Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rose to power.

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Discuss this Article

anon962772
Post 12

My father says he heard about this whole story 30 years ago. I said no, you heard it from me last year. So the question is? Was there any media coverage of this whole plot other than the John Birch Society and a few others, or was this covered in depth by any corporate news outlet?

anon328254
Post 10

Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Personally, I Think British made a mistake to call it that. They should have called it the Saxon-Iranian oil company since Saxons (sons of Saccae) are genetically closer to Iranians than Anglos. By the way, it will never happen again even if all the Iranians starve to death by boycotts.

anon298992
Post 7

Does anyone remember the Iran-Contra fiasco where the US sold weapons to both sides of a war that resulted in one million killed? It's 30 years now that the US has been saying that Iran is close to developing nuclear weapons. When you point a finger at someone you will find four fingers pointing at yourself.

anon255639
Post 6

Great article! Keep up the good work. The article is 100 percent correct. Every American should know the truth about our own government, and the ties to English imperialism.

anon204065
Post 5

What utterly obnoxious comments.

To the Americans, British and Israelis reading, here's an astonishing concept in ethics: apply to yourself the same moral standard that you impose on everyone else, if not higher. What a *deeply* offensive idea, I know.

You can hate the Islamic Republic's government — I certainly am no fan. Neither am I a fan of the "religious" fanatics in Israel or the West, who actually have a great deal in common with the Ayatollahs. We ought to be asking how the Islamic Republic came to be, and the finger points directly back to the US and the UK, and more specifically, the corporate owners of their governments.

It must be remembered that the US and the UK thoroughly humiliated the people of Iran by re-installing the Shah, when they made the *foolish* mistake of thinking that their natural resources belonged to themselves, not to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, later to become BP.

To set the record straight, the idea that "Eisenhower offered support because he viewed a possible Russian invasion in the weak state of Iran as a Cold War Threat" is totally false; Mossadegh was staunchly anti-communist and was, until the country turned against him, a great admirer of the US and the West in general. The documents detailing the CIA-organized public relations campaign in both the US and Iran to portray his government as one friendly to the Soviet Union are freely available in the United States.

I suggest that interested parties investigate the facts for themselves and consider their own actions before they begin criticizing others. They may find that they're not so innocent as they thought.

anon144986
Post 4

To the 1st post @proxy414. Don't remember any films regarding military coups in Iran!

And actually one of my favorite sayings is truth is stranger than fiction. I don't think hollywood even goes close to the truth of America's imperial empire building, and its crimes.

But America is just a term, a label.

The people pulling the strings are not even American, they care only about money and power. Not about nations per se. Not even close!

And as for the second post. Mmmm suppressing protests and murdering its own citizens, sounds familiar! Not unlike America and the UK.

And I would be dubious of where you get your information on Iran's current affairs, unless you're in the country viewing it yourself. Did you see the footage the American networks aired, of the false coup in Venezuela, where they completely edited the footage to make it look like the government forces were shooting civilians?

If they have done it then I'm sure it wasn't the first time or the last.

Proxy414
Post 3

Sometimes Hollywood likes to magnify the crimes of the west to the point where fact and fiction become blurred into each other. Certainly the US has made many deep errors in the past, but the very fact that the US is more aware of its own imperfection than most nations shows that it is a world leader in change. Perhaps other nations should follow suit and begin to recognize that they are not perfect instead of blaming all their issues on a single "great Satan" nation.

Armas1313
Post 2

It is very politically advantageous to propagate hatred toward specific people groups, and this tactic is exhibited clearly by much of the leadership in Iran, which continues to violently point fingers at the West and at Israel. Perhaps the Iranian government should be pointing fingers at itself for violently suppressing protests and murdering its own people.

anon135677
Post 1

Isn't the lack of mere acknowledgment by mainstream media regarding Iran's recent history and its vulnerability to American and British political engineering quite astonishing?

I would say so, although, I would not say that the inarguable historicity should, in any way, evoke a modern day attitude or approach towards Iran that leads with complacency or naivety, as is often the case with the pacifist left.

Surely only an ill informed inquirer or blind partisan would arrive at such a misguided deduction. On the contrary, let us handle this issue of grave consequence with resilience and strength, with little regard for an otherwise deserved guilt.

Let us learn from history, by all means, but let us not be shackled with remorse. Let the rabble rousers continue to cite Western hypocrisy, but let us also remind them of the relative threat. Hitler’s policy was not that dissimilar. He too governed over a seemingly civilized, progressive and educated nation. A claim that Iranian apologists are all too comfortable asserting when discussing the Islamic Republic.

Let us not fall victim again to yet another theocratic design. Instead, listen to Ahmadinejad, while also considering the Elders he represents and the bullied populous over which he presides.

The former's plans are unwavering and pathological; the latter's plans are controlled and few. Unfortunately, once again, I fear we will be forced to contemplate a celestial guidance that is, and damn well should be, impossible to comprehend for any human being that applies logic and reason in the absence of imaginary friends.

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