The Anglo-Iranian crisis of 1951 to 1953

Operation Ajax

The war was triggered by the Anglo-Iranian crisis of 1951 to 1953. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was largely viewed as a colonial influence bent on controlling the host government and enjoying benefits from the hierarchies that resulted from a society that was divided. However, in 1951, led by campaigns championed by Prime Minister then, Mohammad Mossadeq, Iran managed to nationalize its oil resources. Slightly over two years down the line after the nationalization of its oil, the Iranian Premier was deposed (De Seve, 2020).

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When the foreign powers failed to destabilize and abdicate, the British tried to dislocate the premier one more time. Following mass protests and a three-day uprising and bloodshed – the Siyer-Tir on July 21, Mohammad Mossadeq, was granted powers to appoint the chiefs of staff and the minister for war. The British noticed a chance to depose the premier from the differences between the Shah and the government. 18 Nevertheless, Mohammad Mossadeq was already suspicious of the British, thus closed their embassy in October of 1952. All the British agents plus the M16 employees under diplomatic cover had no option but to leave. After sensing that the coupe de tat could not succeed as planned, the British changed tact and resorted to using the CIA (De Seve, 2020).

Accountability of Preparations, Equipment, Logistics, and Contingency

The then British Prime Minister, along with his American counterpart President Eisenhower signed the final coup plans on July 1 and 11th, respectively. 21. The coup conspirators chose General Fazlollah Zahedi, who was the 1st interior Minister to replace Mohammad Mossadeq. Although the British could not practically carry out the coup on their own, they had a major hand in its execution by the USA. Their contribution included chosen Iranian experts who formed a secret network within the Iranian Forces, a civilian network that had existed for a long time, and constant meetings of influence with several influential Iranian politicians (Levin, 2018).

The USA contribution was more concrete and open. They provided the compound of their embassy in Tehran, its secret service operatives, and its diplomats. Kermit Roosevelt, President Theodore’s grandson, who was the Chief of CIA for the Middle Eastern region, was made the field commander and coup director. The primary planner of the coup would be Dr. R.N Wilber, who worked with the secret service and had the experience of traveling across the Middle East disguised in various ways. Others were Loy Henderson and Richard Cottam, a CIA agent and the U.S Ambassador to Iran, respectively. The CIA had groomed four operatives locally, i.e., Colonel Farzanegan, who had lived in Washington but new many field officers in Iran, an agent provocateur named Ehsam Lankarani, a daring revolutionist named Tudeh, and the “Boscoe Brothers.” The latter had important links with the Iranian press. They also had strong links with gang groups and mobs (Levin, 2018).

Several months before the coup, the propaganda against Mohammed Mossadeq increased. Weapons were supplied secretly tot eh groups and tribes that were in favor of the Shah. However, as the plans intensified, Mohammad Reza Shah started demonstrating that he would stand on the way of the coup. He was indecisive and hesitant at first but was eventually persuaded after spirited efforts to accept the scheme. It is not clear whether the Shah agreed with the royal powers and signed the decree to dismiss Mohammad Mossadeq from the premier position, and replaced him with General Zahedi. Using a personal interaction analysis with Dr. D. Wilber in 1969, according to Abraham, Wilber forged the royal signature. Thus, the coup had no legitimate cover. The M16 and the CIA worked together to secure the resolve of the Shah and kept reassuring him that the coup would be sustainable and that it was backed by two strong foreign powers (Levin, 2018).

Plan Execution and Recovery Measures

The coup plan had the backing of several critical royalists in Tehran. As explained by Abraham, the plan was amazingly simple. One of the nights, Colonel Nehmatollah Nasiri, the imperial Guards Commander, was to use an armored car, six army personnel, and two trucks of soldiers. They would, in a single swoop arrest, the Army Chief of Staff and the key ministers. Colonel Nehmatollah Nasiri would then proceed to Mohammed Mossadeq’s home and give him the decree to dismiss him. If he declined to obey the royal decree, Colonel Nasiri would arrest him also. In the meantime, another coup contingent of the Imperial Guars would disconnect the communication channels to the Bazaar and take charge of the central communications hub, and the Chiefs of State headquarters. Zahedi was to lead a convoy to the national radio broadcaster and read the royal decree appointing him to the premiership, from there (Roosevelt, 1979).

To make sure that the coup received popular support from the public, the Boscoe Brothers and other gangs were to collect a group of civilians and go to the radio stations to loot the residences of the officers and cabinet secretaries who supported Mohammed Mossadeq. When the coup was carried out late night on August 15, it was projected to go through with little or no resistance at all. However, it was quickly derailed when a member of the Imperial Guard, who was suspected of being a secret agent of Tudeh, tipped the leaders of his party who revealed the plan to the premier, Mohammed Mossadeq. Thus, instead of Nasiri arresting Mohammed Mossadeq, he was instead arrested by Mossadeq. The decree was dismissed as invalid and argued that the Shah had no powers to sack the prime minister. 30. The Shah took off on his airplane to Baghdad. The operation seemed to have failed disastrously (Roosevelt, 1979).

Kermit Roosevelt, however, hatched a plan fast. The four brigades still under the control of the Royalists would conduct the arrest and fill up the various key positions. To enable the royalist forces to obtain ammunition from the carefully guarded secret armories without suspicion, Roosevelt designed a clever plan; Mossadeq would be lured to call the brigades. The U.S ambassador tactfully emphasized how the Iranian law enforcement agents had failed to protect the lives of the Americans amidst the enraged crowds who had taken to the streets destroying statues of the royal regime and declaring disregard for the Shah and all from the western world. Although some of the reactions were spontaneous to the attempted coup, coup agents tactfully and strategically fanned the fires from behind the scenes and encouraged the demonstrations (Lee, 2013).

Therefore, on August 19, the Premier himself started calling non-law enforcement units to the streets to help maintain law and order. He started with the Imperial Guards. His main support from Tudeh and the national Front avoided going to the streets. The royalist guards hence carried out the coup. They filled up the communication centers and released all detained royalists. The plan went on as earlier planned with the arrest of key ministers and the Chief of Staff. There were 27 tanks that had surrounded the residence of the premier. Mossadeq was arrested a couple of hours later. The coup was declared successful after the arrest.

Operation Assessment

The history of Iran and its fate changed following the coup that overthrew the democratically elected and widely famous Iranian Prime Minister. An iron curtain was brought down the politics of the country. It is reasonable to argue that without the intervention of the U.S IN 1953, the history of Iran would have been different. The fall of Mossadeq’s administration re-established the royal leadership arrangement of leadership, which was autocratic. The regime that assumed power became overtly brutal (Contini, 2013).

The SAVAK was established by the Shah with the help of the CIA. The SAVAK was a secret police unit that rns intelligence activities and took care of internal security. The unit is renowned for its brutality and the eye for the smallest signs of dissent. Following the events that took place in 1953, there was no political freedom in Iran, Abraham points out. The regime thrived on coercion, repressive tactics, and manipulative leadership. The situation remained dire like this until when the Iranian Revolution took place in 1979. The Islamic Republic took charge after the revolution (Contini, 2013).

When the coup succeeded, and the Shah, reinstalled, he moved fast to reassure the western powers loyalty diplomatically, and to adopt an economic program fronted by the west. The oil resources were denationalized, hence ending the crisis. While Iran got 50% of the profits accrued from the oil, western control was brought into being again. Iran was almost literally being controlled by foreign powers (Fowler, 2018).

The consequences of the coup have dogged Iran ever since it took place, yet they are not restricted to Iran’s fate. While the CIA leaders and the U.S. government announced the coup has succeeded, the notion of such success has largely been questioned because of the disastrous effects. The Mossadeq coup helped to solidify the U.S. position as the main regional power. It ushered in a 25 year period of the relationship between the Shah and the U.S. It is also worth noting that even as Anglo-Iranian relations were bolstered by the coup, the influence of the British powers in the region began to wane. Iran was, fast, becoming a client state of the U.S. government (Fowler, 2018).

The British were compelled to sign into membership in a company consortium dominated by the U.S. The interference of America into the affairs of Iran increased tremendously. The U.S. authorities aided the Iranian government with a $500 million worth of military support between 1953 and 1963. The Americans replaced the British as the main foreign and imperial power to reckon with in the Middle East. In the period before 1953, Iranians such as Mossadeq viewed the U.S. as a great and good force in the world, and the British as the enemy (Fowler, 2018).

In modern-day, most of the Iranian people view the two powers as evil equally. Unlike what was happening in the U.S. at the time, Iranians understood the machinations of the British and the Americans to execute the coup. The seed to oppose efforts by foreign powers to install their choice of leadership and defeat the Iranian will was planted among the Iranian people. The continued support of the Imperialist Iranian regime did not help matters. It solidified anti-American sentiments among the populace. A few years down the line, the intense hatred for the political unfolding culminated in the Iranian Revolution and the ensuing crisis. An organized and angry mob of Iranian citizens overran the American Embassy in Tehran. Over sixty Americans were taken, hostage. The event was a maturation of the seed that was planted in the act of deposing Mohammed Mossadeq, who was popularly democratically elected by Iranians. These events are the foundation of the great amount of mistrust that exists between Iran and the U.S.

In short, repeating the opinion of the CIA and Washington in general, the information relied on the press heavily relied on the Cold War and the internalized, polarized mentality that steered the American regime. This position provided rich fodder for the anti-Tudeh and the communist danger. The latter was used to discredit Mohammed Mossadeq. The media, therefore, painted the events of August 1953 as if they were informed by a popular uprising against an incompetent group of leaders in the name of the Prime Minister. He was portrayed as sympathetic to the communists. However, when the coup is re-examined in its right context as a result of oil nationalization, it is evident that the popular notion propagated by the media and peddled within stalls that concealed the facts, it is all a false premise. The U.S. was not only directly involved in overthrowing Mosadeq’s government but also determined the course of events. The threat by Tudeh was not a significant one. The hen Prime Minister can be viewed as a nationalist who fought for the wellbeing of his people and the prosperity of his country. The only “crime” Mossadeq committed was to refuse to give foreign powers too much control over Iran, and the nationalization of oil resources (Levin, 2018).

The mainstream media peddled a lie about the coup of 1953. It almost succeeded in blinding the public to the realities of political developments. The press then kept quiet on the American public and left them to misinterpret facts for years after the coup. Thirty years down the line, a New York Times journalist, Kennett Love, quipped, “More and more, it seems to me that the importance now of what happened was the impact of silence on history.” He was referring to the deliberate silence to cover the truth of what transpired in the deposing of Prime Minister Mossadeq in 1953(Levin, 2018).


The U.S. and Britain blatantly ignored international law and pursued a hidden change of regime, and set the stage for a portent adversary in the Middle East. However, the originally perceived enemy was not Iran. The shocks are still evident. Britain accused Iran of going against the legal rights of the company and pushed for the boycott of oil from Iran. The campaign resulted in the financial crisis in Iran. Britain attempted to lure America into participating in a coup, but Truman had earlier rebuffed the idea. However, when Eisenhower took charge of the American nation, he was determined to thwart any communist advances by the Soviet Union. He, therefore, ordered the CIA to pursue the secret overthrowing of a foreign government. The aim was to prevent USSR from finding space in the oil-rich state (Luce, 2017).

The coup that was orchestrated by the U.S. and Britain introduced a two-decade period of dictatorship presided over by the Shah. The Shah heavily depended on western powers for economic and military support. The forces that eventually deposed the Shah in 1979 were informed by anti-American sentiments. The incident introduced Islamic rule in Iran and spread militancy with Islamic innuendos. The new regime declared unrelenting enmity with the U.S. The overthrowing of the government that was headed by the premier Mohammed Mossadeq changed how the world, particularly the poor and oppressed nations, viewed the U.S., permanently. Many Iranians think and feel that the coup was an unfortunate event that led to a degeneration of the country to depths it has since never recovered from. This feeling could be informed by the fact that Mossadeq’s installation to leadership was the beginning of the realization of the future that was denied by the coup.

The thinking patterns exhibited by the coup engineers do not fundamentally differ from the view that the so-called war on terror justifies throwing the Geneva Convention to the wind, including ignoring what the populace of a country thinks. President Khatami’s allies, with reformist minds, believe that this is yet another opportunity for the country to choose between dictatorship and democracy. They are worried that external interference and internal wrangles could thwart the chances of returning to a democratically led country. Thus, any external pressure piled on Iran only helps to breed more hardliners against what would inadvertently be christened a foreign agenda. It is rather appealing to think that influencing change in the region means democratization. However, if it is premised on end justifying the means, then, the Operation Ajax specter will continue dogging the region and its people forever (Merica& Hanna, 2013).


Contini, C. (2013). A Realistic View on Iran: International relations and Global Politics. GRIN Verlag.

De Seve, M. (2020). Operation Ajax: The Story of the CIA Coup that Remade the Middle East. Verso Books.

Fowler, R. (2018). More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East. U of Nebraska Press.

Lee, C. T. (2013). A Cold War Narrative: The Covert Coup of Mohammad Mossadeq, Role of the U.S. Press and Its Haunting Legacies. Senior Theses, Trinity College, Hartford, CT.

Levin, Y. A. (2018). Operation Ajax in the CIA analytics: colonial knowledge in postcolonial age. Samara Journal of Science, 7(2), 200-203.

Luce, D. D. (2017, September 20). The specter of operation AJAX. The Guardian.

Merica, D., & Hanna, J. (2013). In declassified document, CIA acknowledges role in’53 Iran Coup. CNN News. Retrieved June 15, 2020.

Roosevelt, K. (1979). Countercoup, the Struggle for the Control of Iran. McGraw-Hill Companies.

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