The Hostage Crisis

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  • Topic: Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran hostage crisis
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Iran hostage crisis
The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States. Fifty-two US citizens were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, after a group of Islamic students and militants took over the Embassy of the United States in support of the Iranian Revolution. Sixty-six Americans were taken captive when Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, including three who were at the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Six more Americans escaped and of the 66 who were taken hostage, 13 were released on November 19 and 20, 1979; one was released on July 11, 1980. Start 1953 coup In February 1979, less than a year before the hostage crisis, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, had been overthrown in a revolution. For several decades before that, the United States had been an ally and backer of the Shah. During World War II, Allied powers Britain and the Soviet Union occupied Iran and required Reza Shah the existing Shan of Iran to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The invasion was allegedly in fear that Reza Shah was about to align his petroleum-rich country with Nazi Germany during the war: However, Reza Shah's earlier Declaration of Neutrality and refusal to allow Iranian territory to be used to train, supply, and act as a transport corridor to ship arms to Russia for its war effort against Germany, was the strongest motive for the allied invasion of Iran. Because of its importance in the allied victory, Iran was subsequently called "The Bridge of Victory" by Winston Churchill. By the 1950s, the Shah was engaged in a power struggle with Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq, an immediate descendant of the previous monarchy, the Qajar dynasty. In 1953, the British and U.S. spy agencies deposed the democratically-elected government of Mossadegh in a military coup d'état codenamed Operation Ajax, and restored the Shah as an absolute monarch. The anti-democratic coup d’état was a "a critical event in post-war world history" that replaced Iran’s postmonarchic, native, and secular parliamentary democracy with a dictatorship. US support and funding continued after the coup, with the CIA training the government's secret police, SAVAK. In subsequent decades this foreign intervention, along with other economic, cultural and political issues, united opposition against the Shah and led to his overthrow. Carter administration Shortly before the revolution on New Year's Day 1979, American president Jimmy Carter further angered anti-Shah Iranians with a televised toast to the Shah, declaring how beloved the Shah was by his people. After the revolution in February, the embassy had been occupied and staff held hostage briefly. Rocks and bullets had broken enough of the embassy front-facing windows for them to be replaced with bullet-proof glass. Its staff was reduced to just over 60 from a high of nearly 1000 earlier in the decade. The Carter administration attempted to mitigate the anti-American feeling by finding a new relationship with the de facto Iranian government and by continuing military cooperation in hopes that the situation would stabilize. However, on October 22, 1979 the U.S. permitted the Shah - who was ill with cancer - to attend the Mayo Clinic for medical treatment.

© 2010 Yadvinder S. Rana

The American embassy in Tehran had discouraged the request, understanding the political delicacy, but after pressure from influential figures including former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Council on Foreign Relations chairman David Rockefeller, the Carter administration decided to grant the Shah’s request. The Shah's admission to the US intensified Iranian revolutionaries' anti-Americanism and spawned rumors of another U.S.-backed coup and re-installation of the Shah. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini - who had been exiled by the Shah for 15 years heightened rhetoric against the “Great Satan”,...
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