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.
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 embargoes 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.