Iranian Hostage Crisis Essay Example

  • Category: Middle East, World,
  • Words: 2052 Pages: 8
  • Published: 20 June 2021
  • Copied: 182

Before the infamous Iran Hostage Crisis, in 1953, the United States government, alongside England, conspired to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh. The United States sought to strengthen the monarchical rule of the pro-western Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, commonly referred to as “The Shah.” Pahlavi was chosen because of his reliance on the United States for maintaining power, and his friendliness in terms of oil. The conspiracy behind the coup, known as “Project Ajax,” was fueled when Mossadegh nationalized Iran’s oil industry.

This decision limited the English corporation, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and their control over the Iranian oil reserves. Additionally, the United States and England also feared Communism in Iran, as the form of government was already present in the Tudeh Party. Due to the urgency of this coup the United States and England hired Iranian citizens to stage pro-Shah protests and to over take the streets of Tehran. During one protest on 19 August, between 200 and 300 hired citizens were murdered because of conflicts on Mossadegh’s orders. Because of the Mossadegh was arrested and convicted of treason, making “Project Ajax” a success. He was sentenced to three years in jail, and then later was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. Mossadegh’s supporters were imprisoned as well and some even received the death penalty. The Shah Pahlavi, now in total control of the country, strengthened his monarchy over Iran, and continued to rule for 26 more years until the 1979 Iranian Revolution. 

Soon after the Shah became the the only political figure head in Iran. The Iranian citizens started to grow resentment towards him. The Shah served to be a merciless dictator towards his own people, emphasized by the establishment of his infamous secret police force, the SAVAK, with the help of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The SAVAK were a brutal police force that practiced torture and execution of opposers of Pahlavi. This police force was and still is  considered to be one of the most feared and loathed institutions in Iran. However, between 1962 and 1975, Shah Pahlavi helped grow Iran’s economy and improved Iran’s sociality. In 1963, the Shah planned to institute a “White Revolution,” which aimed at the modernization of Iran. His plan succeeded in the fact that oil revenues rose exponentially providing more funds for education and infrastructure. However, this “White Revolution,” though great for many, was still opposed.

The development of the economy, as stated before, improved education. However, because of this, the universities in Iran started to graduate more students than there were jobs, leaving many unemployed and without a penny in their pocket. The Shah further enraged Islamic fundamentalists by replacing the Islamic calendar with a Persian calendar.  The most notable opposer was Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini’s main opposition struck towards women and the government. He claimed the Shah’s new reforms would grant more rights to women, including the right to vote. He attacked the government for “the rigging of elections and other constitutional abuses, neglect of the poor and the sale of oil to Israel.” Khomeini believed a King’s power, the Shah, proved to be un-Islamic and his duty as a Shia cleric was to fight that power.

As Shah Pahlavi became more repressive, Ayatollah Khomeini gained tremendous support from the Iranian revolutionaries who agreed with his discontent. Khomeini, in his Faziye Seminoir in Qom, urged for the immediate overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of an Islamic state. Pahlavi promptly had Khomeini arrested and exiled from Iran to Iraq. In 1978, radical students, members of the middle and lower class, angered by a corrupt government unresponsive to their needs, fought against economic inequality and political oppression through anti-shah demonstrations, and once again Khomeini called for an overthrow of Pahlavi.

The Shah, now fearful of Khomeini and his followers, fled the country, alongside his family, for as he said a “vacation,” and would never return. Khomeini, after 15 years of exile, returned to Iran and was proclaimed the leader of the Iranian Revolution where he aimed to create a religious state called the Islamic Republic. In December of 1979, after the Iranian Hostage crisis, a new Iranian constitution was set in place declaring Khomeini Iran’s religious and political leader for life. In Khomeini’s rule he denied equal rights for women and required them to wear a veil at all times, banned any form of Western culture from clothing to media, and Islamic law was once again reinstated alongside its brutal punishments. Khomeini would go on to be a ruthless dictator following the path of Shah Pahlavi before him. 

The development of resentment for the Shah, after his flee, held by Iranian revolutionaries grew exponentially through Khomeini’s radicalism and doubled in acrimony towards the United States, as the Iranian citizens recognized the involvement of the United States in the ‘53 coup d’état. The indignation led to protests, riots, and demonstrations outside the United States embassy in Tehran. Finally, the Iranian people broke in October of 1979 when the United States admitted Shah Pahlavi into the U.S. in terms of receiving the medical treatment for his diagnosed cancer. This decision enraged the Iranian revolutionaries so much that a month later, on November 4, 1979, the fifteenth anniversary of Khomeini’s exile, a mob of around 300 to 500 militant students, with permission from Khomeini himself, attacked the United States embassy capturing a total sixty-six American citizens. Today known as, “The Iranian Hostage Crisis.”

One account from an American hostage recalls that during the attack the Iranian students shouting “Death to America,”  and breaking windows and bars in order to enter inside the secure U.S. embassy from the chancery basement. During this the U.S. marines were holding back the protestors as employees inside were scrambling to find safety on the second floor behind a steel door. However, to their dismay, the Iranian students successfully captured the United States embassy taking sixty-six American citizens, mostly diplomats and embassy employees. with them. Shortly after thirteen or those who were captured were released on count of being women, African American, or not a U.S. citizen, as Khomeini felt they had suffered “the oppression American society” already and another hostage was released due to health issues. By summer 1980, 52 hostages were still being held captive. The prisoners though never seriously injured, were subject to humiliating treatment, such as being masked and paraded before an Iranian crowd, not allowed to read or speak, and undergoing mock executions. Though conditions were stringent and demeaning, they were bearable. What frightened the captives most was the thought of if they would ever be able to ever return home and if the United States was working to free them from their Iranian capturers.    

As President Carter predicted, the admission of Shah Pahlavi, backfired on the United States. One the U.S. received word on the embassy being held captive, Operation Eagle Claw was set in place. The first measures decided by the American government was to freeze all Iranian assets in the United States and shut down oil imports from Iran. These measures failed in aiding diplomatic negotiations, so Carter decided to take it a step further by cutting off all diplomatic relations, cutting of food aid to Iran, closing Iranian institutions within the United States, and embargoing all imports from Iran. Again, this plan failed once more, so Carter turned to more drastic measures. In April of 1980, close to a year after the seize, President Carter made the choice to launch a high risk military operation to rescue to American Hostages.

The operation was meant to send an elite rescue team into the American embassy in Iran, and return with the hostages safely. However, due to a serve sandstrom on the day of the mission several of the rescue helicopters malfunctioned, and one flew into a transport aircraft killing eight American service men. From there Operation Eagle Claw was aborted. This failure humiliated President Jimmy Carter, and damaged his reputation worldwide. Khomeini described the sandstorms that caused the operation to fail as an “angel from Allah” protecting Iran. A second rescue mission called Operation Honey Badger soon after was set in place. Test runs and exercises were conducted, but the operation and rescue never occurred. The American citizens, humiliated by President Carter’s inept and ineffective actions, looked towards a new President for the next election who could successfully save their American brothers.

Besides the humiliation the Americans felt, the main thought filling American’s heads was confusion as to why the Iranians decided to attack their embassy and hold American citizens hostage. At this time the United States involvement in Iran’s 1953 coup d’état, was unknown and top secret. Because of this ignorance, Americans began to loathe and abhor Iran and its citizens. American media connected the regular American citizens to the diplomats being held captive, this resulted in the average citizen feeling as if they too are victims of terrorism as well. Rather than the hostages being portrayed as diplomats, the hostages were portrayed with emotions and domesticity, while the Iranians were depicted to be enraged in the background with the message that they planned to besmirch the essence and values of the United States.

By depoliticizing the captives and caricaturing the Iranians, the government and media won the hearts of Americans along with their support and anger towards Iran. In August of 2013, on the sixtieth anniversary, the U.S. national security archive at George Washington University published a series of declassified CIA documents, which included the United States involvement in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état against Prime Minister Mossadegh. The United Kingdom still denies any involvement, though the widespread belief is that England was involved. This new profound knowledge changed the views and hearts of many Americans, as they now saw how their government’s actions led to the tumultuous events that had occurred. 

In the 1980 election with the hostages still being held captive, Americans were searching for a leader who would return their brothers back home. Jimmy Carter, the current President at this time, used his focus on bringing back the hostages rather than his second-term candidacy. Besides his perceived lack of interest in serving again, the constant media coverage served as a reminder to Americans that their President, Jimmy Carter, was not fit to stay in office, as he was made to look weak and ineffective. During the 1980 election, the Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan, formally the governor of California, took advantage of Carter’s weakness and won the election in a landslide. It is believed by many that Reagan’s campaign staff corresponded with Iran on terms of realising the hostages. Though Reagan denied these allegations, just hours after giving his inaugural address, the fifty-two remaining American diplomats were released from Iranian control after being held captive for four-hundred and forty-four days. 

On January 19, 1981, the day before Reagan’s inaugural address, Iran and United States met in Algiers to sign the Algiers Accords to resolve the Iranian Hostage Crisis. A few chief provisions include that, the United States would not intervene politically or militarily in Iranian internal affairs, both countries would end ligation between their respective governments, and that Iranian debts to the United States would be paid. The United States, at this time, as well agreed to unfreeze Iranian assets and end the embargo. The Algiers Accords resulted in the safe return of the hostages from Iran to the United States, and establish the Iran-U.S. Claim Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.  

The humiliation felt during the hostage crisis, spanning over fourteen months, awoke bitter American sentiments towards Iran, that have still yet to subside. These beliefs led to detrimental political and military decisions to target the opposing country and to inhibit communication with one another. The most notable being the United States’ support of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War, where the United States allowed, funded, and assisted in the use of illegal chemical weapons, such as mustard gas, against Iranian citizens, killing thousands. The American hatred for Iran in this war would later backfire on the United States, as the leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein who the U.S. had close alliship with, would be found to be in relations with the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, who most notably executed  9/11, the most impactful terrorist attack in U.S. history. But, the mutual hatred and stigma held by each country to the other serves to be the most devastating consequence of this crisis.

To this day, Iranian citizens hold state-organized anti-U.S. rallies in the streets and chant “Death to America” and “Down with the U.S.A.”  The American perspective does not fall short of this hostility, Iranians, in the American perspective, are still viewed as deceitful terrorists as a result of the heinous images drilled into American heads forty years ago. But despite this all, former President Barack Obama first reached out to Iran to mend broken bonds, and later agreed to and signed the Iran Nuclear Deal, which stated “Iran's nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful.” This major step brought forth more communication between the two countries and served to be beneficial for both parties. However, on May 8, 2018, the current sitting President of the United States, Donald Trump, announced the United States would be restoring sanctions on Iran, breaching the deal made under Obama’s presidency. The tensions between each country for one another are still strong and will forever have a lasting impact.

 

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