Iran Hostage Crisis
World War II
During World War II, Reza Shah, the Shah of Iran, had entertained the idea of joining the Axis Powers of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. The Iranians, like the Nazis, were extremely anti-Semetic and supported the Holocaust. In 1941, in a necessary pre-emptive strike to prevent the acquisition of vital oil supply lines by the Nazis, the Allies invaded Iran to depose the monarch. He abdicated, letting his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, assume power. America established good relations with the new monarch, whose country proved to be a worthy ally during the Cold War after the Soviets withdrew under U. S. pressure in 1946. Britain subsequently redeployed its forces to other points throughout its empire. The U.S. gave economic and military aid to Iran, while Iran provided the U.S. military with oil. Iran's strategic location, combined with American military aid, prevented the Soviet Union from gaining control of the Persian Gulf.
In 1953, the communist-leaning Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, nationalized American- and British-owned oil companies, including the Anglo-American Oil Company. The CIA, with aid from British MI6, removed Mossadegh and his Islamo-Communist allies from power in Operation Ajax. Reza Pahlavi was restored to power. Despite all the Western aid and intervention in preventing a Soviet takeover, the removal of the popular Mossadegh created anti-American sentiment in some of the Iranian people. The U.S.'s support for Israel also enraged many anti-Semetic Iranians.
The hatred of American support finally came to a boiling point in 1979. The Iranian Revolution transformed Iran from the monarchy under the pro-American Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to an Islamic republic under the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that allied with the Marxist Tudeh Party. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had gained power after the British and Soviet-led invasion during World War II, was forced to flee to the United States to seek surgery for cancer in October. The Ayatollah referred to the U.S. as "the Great Satan" and maintained that the American government was protecting Pahlavi and supporting the royalist troops who were continuing to engage the rebels in guerilla warfare. The Iranian public believed the Ayatollah's propaganda, and assumed that the U.S. would soon invade to depose Khomeini and re-instal Pahlavi. The Ayatollah called for his student followers to storm the U.S. embassay and take all Americans captive.
The idea of attacking the embassy was first proposed in September 1979, by Ebrahim Asgharzadeh to four fellow university students. Asgharzadeh later said his aim was "to object against the American government by going to their embassy and occupying it for several hours. Announcing our objections from within the occupied compound would carry our message to the world in a much more firm and effective way." Upon learning they had followed through with their plans, Khomeini called it "The second revolution: the take-over of the American spy den in Tehran."
On November 4, 1979, the 300 radical Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line stormed the embassy. The gate was broken open by a pair of metal cutters that one student hid under her hijab. Some poured in through the open gates, while others scaled the walls. Iranian police were cooperative, and took no action. Sixty-six American hostages were taken prisoner inside the perceived safety of their embassy.
Three weeks after the initial attack, the Iranians released thirteen female and black prisoners, claiming they were sympathetic to the "oppressed minorities". Another hostage would later be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and would be released in July 1980 to seek medical treatment. The remaining 52 hostages, however, were frequently blindfolded or hooded and paraded before news cameras at the orders of Khomeini.
The American public united in outrage at this rash action against the United States. Many Iranians living in the U.S. were deported when they were discovered to be supporters of the revolution. Americans called upon President Jimmy Carter to act. However, Carter only ceased oil imports from Iran. Seeing Carter's failure to defend the Americans, Khomeini commented that the "action has many benefits. ... This has united our people. Our opponents [Carter] do not dare act against us." Khomeini added supported from the People's Mujahedin of Iran (a terrorist group) to his support from the Islamists, when he adopted the slogan "America can't do a damned thing." Together, the Muslim radicals and their Communist allies purged the country of all opposition, citing pro-Americanism as an offense in many executions. The American public continued to urge the President to take justified military action to protect his people. Carter answered by simply arranging for a Canadian ambassador to be sent to interview the hostages.
Ultimately, it would be Iraq who would unwittingly cause the release of the prisoners. In September 1980, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, forcing the Iranian government to turn to the United States for support. Carter eventually authorized an $8 billion ransom for the release of the prisoners. The damage, however, had been done. The American people had lost faith in Carter due to his poor leadership in times of crisis. Ironically, the 1980 Presidential Election was held on the one-year anniversary of the attack. Largely due to the hostage crisis,[Citation Needed] California Governor Ronald Reagan was overwhelmingly elected. Reagan's campaign platform included restoring American power and influence abroad. Immediately after Reagan took the Presidential Oath of Office on January 20, the hostages were flown out of Iran after 444 days of captivity.
The current President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to many of the former hostages, is one of their captors. The Iranian government has denied that Ahmadinejad was one of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line.