BLOGGING FROM A TO Z

A 1970’s Time Capsule

NEWS AND NOTEWORTHY

IRAN HOSTAGE CRISIS

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The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States. More than sixty American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days (November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981) after a group of Iranian students belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, who supported the Iranian Revolution, took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

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President Jimmy Carter called the hostages “victims of terrorism and anarchy” and said, “The United States will not yield to blackmail.” In Iran, it was widely seen as a blow against the United States and its influence in Iran, including its perceived attempts to undermine the Iranian Revolution and its longstanding support of the recently overthrown Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had led an autocratic regime.

After his overthrow in 1979, the shah was admitted to the United States for cancer treatment. Iran demanded that he be returned to stand trial for crimes he was accused of committing during his reign. Specifically, Pahlavi was accused of committing crimes against Iranian citizens with the help of his secret police, the SAVAK. Iranians saw the decision to grant him asylum as American complicity in those atrocities. In the United States, the hostage-taking was seen as an egregious violation of the principles of international law.

The crisis reached a climax when, after failed efforts to negotiate the hostages’ release, the United States military attempted a rescue operation using ships, including the USS Nimitz and USS Coral Sea, that were patrolling the waters near Iran. On April 24, 1980, the attempt, known as Operation Eagle Claw, failed, resulting in the deaths of eight American servicemen and one Iranian civilian, as well as the destruction of two aircraft. Documents dated two weeks before the operation claim that the American national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, discussed an invasion of Iran through Turkish bases and territory, though this plan was never executed.

A right side view of six RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters in flight, just after lifting off the flight deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS NIMITZ (CVN-68). The helicopters are taking part in Operation Evening Light, a rescue mission to Iran.

A right side view of six RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters in flight, just after lifting off the flight deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS NIMITZ (CVN-68). The helicopters are taking part in Operation Evening Light, a rescue mission to Iran.

Shah Pahlavi left the United States in December 1979 and was ultimately granted asylum in Egypt, where he died from complications of cancer on July 27, 1980. In September 1980, the Iraqi military invaded Iran, beginning the Iran–Iraq War. These events led the Iranian government to enter negotiations with the U.S., with Algeria acting as a mediator. The hostages were formally released into United States custody the day after the signing of the Algiers Accords, just minutes after the new American president, Ronald Reagan, was sworn into office.

The crisis is considered a pivotal episode in the history of Iran–United States relations. Political analysts cite it as a major factor in the trajectory of Jimmy Carter’s presidency and his loss in the 1980 presidential election. In Iran, the crisis strengthened the prestige of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the political power of theocrats who opposed any normalization of relations with the West. The crisis also led to the United States’ economic sanctions against Iran, further weakening ties between the two countries.

Timeline Presented by CNN:
1978 –
Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s authoritarian rule sparks demonstrations and riots.
January 16, 1979 – The Shah flees Iran and goes to Egypt.
February 1, 1979 – Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns to Iran after 14 years in exile, to lead the country.
October 22, 1979 – The Shah is allowed to enter the United States to receive medical treatment for cancer.
November 4, 1979 – Iranian students demonstrating outside of the U.S. embassy in Tehran storm the embassy and take 90 people hostage including 66 Americans. The students demand the extradition of the Shah from the United States. Ayatollah Khomeini issues a statement of support for the students’ actions.
November 5, 1979 – The Iranian government cancels military treaties with the U.S. and the Soviet Union, treaties that would permit U.S. or Soviet military intervention.
November 6, 1979 – Premier Mehdi Bazargan and his government resign, leaving Ayatollah Khomeini and the Revolutionary Council in power.
November 7, 1979 – President Jimmy Carter sends former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Senate Intelligence Committee staff director William Miller to Iran to negotiate the release of the hostages. Ayatollah Khomeini refuses to meet with them.
November 14, 1979 – President Carter orders Iranian assets in U.S. banks frozen.
November 17, 1979 – Khomeini orders the release of female and African-American hostages. They are released November 19 and 20, bringing the total number of U.S. hostages to 53.
December 4, 1979 – The United Nations Security Council passes a resolution calling for Iran to release the hostages.
December 15, 1979 – The Shah leaves the United States for Panama.
January 28, 1980 – Six American embassy employees, who avoided capture and hid in the homes of Canadian Embassy officers, flee Iran. In 1997 it is revealed that, along with the Canadian government, the CIA made the escape possible.
March 1980 – The Shah returns to Egypt.
April 7, 1980 – President Carter cuts diplomatic ties with Iran, announcing further sanctions and ordering all Iranian diplomats to leave the United States.
April 25, 1980 – Eight U.S. servicemen are killed when a helicopter and a transport plane collide during a failed attempt to rescue the hostages.
July 11, 1980 – Another hostage is released due to illness. The total number of U.S. hostages is now 52.
July 27, 1980 – The Shah dies of cancer in Egypt.
September 12, 1980 – Ayatollah Khomeini sets new terms for the hostages’ release, including the return of the late Shah’s wealth and the unfreezing of Iranian assets.
November 1980-January 1981 – Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher and his delegation work through mediators in Algeria to negotiate the release of the hostages.
January 19, 1981 – The United States and Iran sign an agreement to release the hostages and unfreeze Iranian assets.
January 20, 1981 – The remaining 52 U.S. hostages are released and flown to Wiesbaden Air Base in Germany.
December 18, 2015 – Congress passes a budget bill that includes a provision authorizing each of the 53 hostages to receive $10,000 for each day they were held captive. In addition, spouses and children will separately receive a one-time payment of $600,000.

 

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4 responses

  1. The film ‘Argo’ was literally one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and whilst there were several moments of “Hollywood embellishment”, it was a very good look at the crisis.

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  2. I remember the Iran hostage crisis well. I was just so mystified that there was a whole nation full of people who didn’t seem to think taking hostages was wrong. I really enjoyed this post and think you are doing a great service to educate the public through these glimpses from the past.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Laura says:

    I remember this like it was yesterday.

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