Tuesday, April 17, 2012

After the failed rescue attempt, the United States was left with only diplomacy as a weapon to secure the release of the hostages. Unfortunately, the rescue attempt seemed to strengthen the resolve of the Iranians and talks stalled or were met with negative responses. The crisis drug on.

A series of events unfolded which would lead to the release of the hostages. First, Ronald Reagan won the 1980 Presidential election. He had pledged to bring the hostage crisis to an end quickly once in office. His election as President made many students and the Ayatollah on edge, wondering what type of action he may employ.

Second, supporters of the Ayatollah had won the majority of seats in the parliament. There was not much political capital left by holding the hostages.

Another issue was the war Iran had become involved in with Iraq. The Iranians would need the assets frozen in the United States in order to fund the war.

Lastly, the Shah had died in July of 1980 while living in Egypt. The primary demand of the students was the return of the Shah. This was now impossible.

A deal was struck between the United States and Iran, using Algerian diplomats to resolve the crisis. The United States agree to unfreeze Iranian assets and also agree to a stipulation not to meddle in Iranian affairs. In return, the remaining 52 hostages would be returned.

The Algiers Accord   Link to the actual document.

The Ayatollah would wait until the swearing on of President Reagan before releasing the hostages. The Ayatollah stated that he wanted to further humiliate President Carter and also show the world that Iran could have an affect on U.S. elections.

The hostages were released moments after the swearing in of President Reagan.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Disaster in the Desert: Operation Eagle Claw

The plan for rescue was launched from the USS Nimitz which was off the coast of Iran. The plan was designed for eight helicopters to be used. On the way to the first rendezvous point, two helicopters aborted the mission because of sand storms. Another helicopter experienced problems with a hydraulic pump and crash landed at the rendezvous point. Replacement parts were on-board the aircraft that returned to the Nimitz. It had been determined that the mission would require at least six helicopters. Commanders requested to abort the mission and Carter granted approval.

The debacle did not end at this point. As the force attempted to leave, one of the helicopters crash landed on a C-130 transport plane, killing several servicemen. The resulting fire destroyed both aircraft and killed 8 servicemen. The rest of the force was able to return to the Nimitz.

President Carter went on television and explained to the American people what happened. It was a national embarrassment and further weakened Carter's Presidency. He would later claim the rescue failure caused his lost reelection bid.

The failure certainly cemented the ideas of Carter's poor leadership to the American people. Additionally, Republicans had been claiming that budget cuts was weakening the capabilities of the Armed Service following the Vietnam War. The debacle in the desert served to bolster these claims.

In response, the Iranians scattered the hostages to all four corners of Iran. Most were placed in jails.

In the above video, President Carter addresses the nation concerning the failure of Operation Eagle Claw.

The Long Haul

The 1980 Presidential Election was fast approaching. President Carter, already vulnerable from unemployment, inflation, oil shortages and dealing with the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan was in deep political trouble. He even faced a primary challenge from Sen. Edward Kennedy. 

President Carter knew this hostage crisis was a severe threat to his re-election chances. After the initial sanctions imposed on Iran and forcing some Iranians from the country, Carter relied heavily on his State Department to initial diplomatic efforts to attempt to secure the release of the hostages. These attempts were futile, as the Ayatollah knew the political value of the incident and continued to play it out on the world stage.

Compounding Carter's problem was the nightly news, which usually started their nightly telecasts with an update of the hostage crisis with the day number of the crisis emblazoned prominently across the screen. The longer the crisis went on, the more Carter's reelection chances decreased.

Carter, increasingly was pressed to attempt military action. The State Department opposed military action, believing if it failed, future diplomacy would be useless. Military planners had been working on operations for months in preparation for an order from the President. Carter, who had looked weak throughout the crisis, needed to take bold decisive action. He decided on military action. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Initial Reaction, Fallout, Politics

Both the hostages and hostage takers believed the incident would not last long. The hostages thought it would be more of a sit-in demonstration and at some point, would dissolve.

The Iranians thought the situation would be brief as well. They initially planned for a week long operation. The Ayatollah Khomeini was intimately involved from the beginning. Initially, the students used an Imam, who was close to Khomeini, to relay messages. He had given his consent for the takeover, but remained removed from the situation directly in order to deny complicity.

The provisional government of Iran was extremely displeased with the actions of the students. Attempting to maintain political control of Iran after a revolution was their primary concern, this was just a sideshow distraction to them. Additionally, the Premier felt as though by the students overtaking the Embassy would only cause more U.S. involvement in Iranian affairs, not cause it to decease. The Premier had told American diplomats he would be able to have the hostages released in a few days.

The provisional government collapsed within a week and with it, hope of a quick resolution to the crisis. With the collapse, the Khomeini had complete control of Iran. The hostages proved to be a public relations coup for the Ayatollah and he decided to continue the crisis as long as it was politically beneficial to him.

President Jimmy Carter initial response to the crisis proved to be way of the mark as he underestimated the resolve and motives of the students. Speaking to a members of the hostage's families who had gathered in Washington, DC, he told them "I don't think this will last long, they are religious people....they will do what is right."

Khomeini was adept as using the crisis for propaganda and exploiting it for political gain. A few weeks after the crisis was initiated, he ordered the release of 13 women and African-Americans, citing they were victims of oppression and women had a sacred place in Islam. Some of the higher ranking women and African-Americans were still held captive under the auspice of being spies.

Note: Later in the crisis, a hostage who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis was also released, leaving the final number at 53 hostages.

The video above is President Carter's reaction to the crisis. In response, the United States embargoed importation of Iranian oil and froze 8 billion dollars in Iranian assets in the United States. After this initial diplomatic sanctions, President Carter would offer very little, if nothing, of additional diplomatic efforts to free the hostages.

Day 1: November 4th, 1979

Embassy personnel were aware of a planned demonstration by Iranian students on November 4th, 1979. The students were to march past the U.S. Embassy on the way to the University of Tehran for a demonstration.

Unknown to Embassy personnel, the demonstrators planned to breach the Embassy Compound. The leaders of the demonstration figured they would be fired upon and counted on people being killed. They could use this as propaganda and could further fuel ant-american hate. While passing the Embassy, the crowd began climbing walls to the compound and forcibly broke the embassy gate.

Facing little to no resistance from the personnel in the compound, the Iranians were able to take hostage all personnel in the compound. A total of 63 Americans were taken hostage. At the time of the siege, there were several personnel off the embassy grounds.

Due to the surprise nature of the attack and also a shortage of personnel, proper protocol was not able to be followed by personnel. Many documents and other sensitive material was unable to be destroyed, leaking secrets to the Iranians.

The Iranians cited allowing the Shah into the United States as the primary reason for the takeover. Additionally, information gleaned from improperly disclosed documents and materials provided the Iranians with information that would further justify, in their minds, the embassy takeover.

The initial demand was the return of the Shah from the United States to Iran. It was clear, if that were to happen, he would be executed.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Iranian Revolution

The American Embassy in Iran had grown to one of the largest in the world, with a staff off over 2,000. Additionally, under the Shah, Iran had became the largest importer of American made weapons. Throughout 1978, demonstrations against the Shah continued to grow and led to bloodshed and violence. Eventually, most cities were place under martial law by the Shah. The Ayatollah Khomeini, a religious leader who had been exiled for 15 years by the Shah after 8 months of imprisonment continued to fan the flames from outside the country. On January 16th, 1979, the Shah fled Iran. The United States had pledged support to the Shah, but it was obvious at this time he had lost control of the country. He left the country, fleeing to Egypt, effectively ending over 2000 years of continuous rule of monarchy, which began under Cyrus the Great. Into this power vacuum stepped the Ayatollah Khomeini, who fervently anti-american.

The weeks following the Revolution saw violence continuing in the streets across Iran. The Ayatollah returned to his home and pondered the future of his country. Rumors swirled as the type of government he would install, from democracy to a theocratic monarchy.

In February, 1979, the U.S. Embassy narrowly escaped an attempted siege from a left wing guerrilla group.   The attempted takeover resulted in this major American Embassy to reduce its staff from 2,000 to less than 20 Americans.

A few months later, the United States attempted to re-establish the embassy and send a group of over 70 diplomats for the task. By the summer of 1979, the embassy had mostly been re-established with diplomatic contacts back in place. Although still on high alert, the embassy had basically returned to normal. Dancing, dinners, and entertainment has resumed to the sprawling 27 acre facility.

The embassy personnel was dealing with a provisional government brought on by the revolution. Unknown at the time, but many hard right wing students and radical clerics saw this "normalization" as a threat to the revolution. Most of these people assumed the United States was meddling in Iranian affairs again.

Compounding this problem was the Shah. He had been moving from country to country in exile for the last eight months and had became ill. He requested entry into the United States in order to seek medical treatment. The Foreign Affairs Officer who was temporarily in charge of the Embassy until an Ambassador warned the State Department of the possibility of another attack on the embassy. Surrounded by his foreign policy team, who argued for the admittance of the Shah into the country, President Carter ominously asked "What the hell are you going to do if they take our people hostage?" Nevertheless, President Carter granted access into the country for the deposed Shah. This decision by President Carter would prove fatal to his Presidency.

Citation: 444 Days: The Iran Hostage Crisis. Films Media Group, 1998. Films On Demand. Web. 09 April 2012. <http://digital.films.com.ezproxy.fairmontstate.edu/PortalPlaylists.aspx?aid=1964&xtid=9200>.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


The Shah's rule over this period was marked with close ties to the United States. During this period, the Shah attempted to modernize Iran and was successful in many areas including modernizing the military, advancements in woman's suffrage, and nationalizing some of the countries natural resources. During his reign, Iran marked 2,500 straight years of continuous monarchy since the founding of the empire and Cyrus the Great.

  However, many Iranians were suspicious of the Shah and the way he assumed power with the help of the United States and Great Britain. Coupled with growing unrest of a poor economy, the Shah would eventually be overthrown by the Iranian Student Revolution.