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Finale of the Persian Monarchy and Prelude to the Iranian Revolution

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, departed Tehran on January 16, 1979 to seek medical treatment and to escape growing political unrest in the country he ruled. The Shah had consolidated his hold on power after the 1953 U.S.-backed overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh and was considered a vital ally to the U.S., a leader in fighting communism and promoting regional stability.  Iran had been increasingly prosperous and the Shah’s grip on power unassailable.

Pahlavi’s fortunes changed when his “White Revolution” of social, economic and political reforms stalled with the end of the 1960s oil boom and his secret police (SAVAK) ramped up their vicious repression of political dissidents. Observers at home and abroad began to question the regime’s viability in light of reports of rampant corruption and human rights abuses. Self-aggrandizing acts by the Shah, notably an extravagant commemoration of the 2500 years of Persian monarchy held in the ruins of Persepolis, consolidated political opposition and propelled unrest into revolution. Read more

Far from the Madding Crowd — Leeds Castle and the Road to Camp David

“Where you stand depends on where you sit” – an oft-heard epigram used to describe negotiations. And it’s true – something as simple as a seating arrangement, with one side facing the other across a long table can only serve to encourage rigidity and a sense that the negotiations are a zero-sum game. Because of this, mediators will often get the conflicting parties in a neutral site to break the ice. That was precisely the idea behind the two-day conference of U.S., Israeli and Egyptian Foreign Ministers on July 18-19, 1978 at Leeds Castle in Kent, England.

Relations between Israel and Egypt remained tense after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Negotiations had gone on for five years and progress was frustratingly slow. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat helped break the logjam with his historic visit to Jerusalem in October 1977, while Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin countered with a 26-point plan, which would set up an interim local Palestinian government on the West Bank for five years, while Israeli troops would continue to handle defense and security matters.  Read more

When Friends Spy on Friends: The Case of Jonathan Pollard

Former Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Jay Pollard delivered over 800 highly classified documents to the Israeli government over a 17-month period. According to an article by Seymour Hersh published in the New Yorker, Pollard stole and sold militarily sensitive Signals Intelligence information, a year’s worth of memos by intelligence officers in the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet recording  their observations of Soviet planes, ships, and submarines in the Mediterranean Sea, documents on how Navy intelligence was tracking Soviet submarines, and material revealing the capabilities of one of America’s most highly classified photo-reconnaissance satellites.  In a 1998 op-ed published in the Washington Post, four former directors of naval intelligence noted that Pollard “offered classified information to three other countries before working for the Israelis and that he offered his services to a fourth country while he was spying for Israel.”

FBI agents arrested Pollard in Washington on Nov. 21, 1985 after he sought political asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 with a mandatory-parole clause after 30 years. He was released November 20, 2015. Read more

Modern Turkey’s History of Military Coups

The July 2016 attempted coup d’état in Turkey was the latest in a series of military interventions in the nation’s history. The military has forced out four civilian governments since 1960, when Premier Adnan Menderes was deposed. In 1971 the military forced Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel to resign; in 1980, the Turkish army launched the bloodiest military takeover in Turkey’s history; and in 1997, after the military issued so-called recommendations during a National Security Council meeting, the prime minister agreed to some measures and resigned soon after in what is referred to as the “post-modern” coup.

The Republic of Turkey’s constitution grants the military the authority to intervene when needed to quell turmoil. After each coup, the military took charge of the government but returned it to civilian rule within a few years.

The U.S. Embassy has closely followed the political upheavals of this strategically important nation. Daniel O. Newberry and Parker T. Hart were each serving in Turkey around the time of the 1960 coup, and Alfred J. White, James W. Spain, and Richard W. Boehm served during the coup of 1980. Read more

We Don’t Give a Dam — The Feud Over Financing the Aswan High Dam

Egypt’s agriculture has always depended on the water of the Nile; the river’s perennial floods, while critical in replenishing the fertile soil, constantly threatened to wash away a season’s harvest. The Aswan High Dam was built to regulate the river’s flooding as well as to create hydroelectric power and a reservoir for irrigation. Its planning and financing in the 1950s played a major role in American-Egyptian diplomatic relations, and was in part responsible for precipitating the Suez Crisis in 1956. (Photo: Corbis)

Following the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952, new president Gamal Abdel Nasser viewed a new, larger dam as politically and economically vital for Egypt. The United States, looking to counter Soviet influence in the Middle East, offered to finance the construction of a dam as well as provide arms shipments to Egypt, on the condition that the weapons be used only defensively and that the U.S. supervise all training. Read more

Death of an AUB President and Father of a Future NBA Coach

He was a brilliant scholar who focused on the Middle East and whose books were widely read by Arabists. His son Steve would later play for the NBA champion Chicago Bulls and then become coach of the Golden State Warriors and lead them to a championship in 2015 and break the record for most wins in a regular season in 2016. Malcolm Kerr grew up in Lebanon, on and near the campus of the American University of Beirut (AUB), where his parents taught for forty years. He returned to the U.S. and went graduated from high school at the Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and later got his Bachelor’s from Princeton.

After teaching at UCLA, he moved to Cairo and in 1965 published his book The Arab Cold War. He became President of AUB in 1982, in the midst of the Lebanon Civil War.  U.S. Ambassador Frank Meloy and Economic Counselor Robert Waring were assassinated in 1976.  U.S. Embassy Beirut was bombed in 1983 and the Marine Corps barracks were attacked just a few months later. Sadly, Kerr would also become a victim to the violence:  On January 18, 1984, he was shot and killed by two gunmen outside his office. He was 52. Read more

Selwa Roosevelt:  The Lucky Chief of Protocol

Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt is best known for her role as Chief of Protocol of the United States from 1982 to 1989. After graduating from Vassar College in New York, Lucky pursued a career in journalism, covering social events in Washington D.C. She was invited to take the position of Chief of Protocol by Nancy Reagan and Mike Deaver after showcasing her talent as a reporter. As Chief of Protocol, Lucky organized over 1,000 visits of world leaders to the United States and directed the restoration of Blair House, the President’s guest house.

Selwa Roosevelt was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in November of 2003. She talked about growing up in Tennessee as a daughter of Lebanese Druze immigrants and the start of her long career in journalism. She also described her career as Chief of Protocol at the State Department, the challenges of organizing state events with conflicting personalities and cultures, and how being the wife of  career CIA officer Archibald Roosevelt changed her life in ways she never predicted. Read more

Towering Infernos – The Kuwait Oil Fires

A 2010 Time Magazine article rated it as the third worst environmental catastrophe in history, right behind Chernobyl and Bhopal. As Operation Desert Storm drew to a close, with Kuwait liberated and the Iraqi Army all but destroyed, Saddam Hussein would not concede defeat. Like a cornered rat, he inflicted one more blow on Kuwait’s ecology and its oil production infrastructure, something he hoped would take years to recover from. So he ordered his men to blow up Kuwait’s oil wells. Some 700 were set on fire, unleashing a 20th Century Black Death.

Trying to extinguish the fires was a near impossibility at first. It was too dangerous to send in firefighting crews during the war and later it was discovered that land mines had been placed in the areas around the wells, meaning they had to be removed before the fires could be put out. Read more

Rich and Eager to Buy – Saudi Arabia in the Oil Boom ‘70s

When oil was discovered in the Arabian Peninsula during the 1930’s and 40’s, the full extent of its impact on Arabian society could not truly be appreciated. It was only during the 1970’s, after OPEC flexed its muscles during the oil embargo, that the countries of the Arabian Gulf truly began to benefit from their massive oil deposits.

However, the influx of huge amounts of petro-dollars was a huge shock to countries such as Saudi Arabia, where Bedouins still roamed the desert and tribal chieftains carried huge political power. Saudi society was overwhelmed by its new wealth, and its booming oil economy quickly ran out of control. Read more

On the Road Again — Kissinger’s Shuttle Diplomacy

In January and May 1974, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger engaged in “shuttle diplomacy,” a term coined by the members of the media who followed Kissinger on his various short flights among Middle East capitals as he sought to deal with the fallout of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. After three weeks of fighting, a ceasefire found Israeli forces entangled with the Egyptian and Syrian forces. This presented President Richard Nixon and Kissinger with an opportunity to play a lead role in disengaging these armies from one another and possibly laying the groundwork for further steps to peacefully resolve the 25-year conflict.

In January 1974, Kissinger helped negotiate the first Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement in eight days, and in May, he arranged a Syrian-Israeli disengagement after a month of intense negotiations. Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy secured one last deal in September 1975 with the conclusion of a second Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement. Read more