Iranian Hostage Crisis

The Iranian Hostage Crisis commenced on November 4, 1979, in which a mob of 300-500 Iranian people stormed the American Embassy and abducted 66 American citizens and diplomats. Short after this abduction, the abductors released 15 hostages who weren't vital to their cause and held the remaining 51 hostage for a total of 444 days.

This whole ordeal sparked back in 1953, when the United States headed "Operation Ajax", in which the CIA unseated the newly elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh and reinstituted a more American friendly diplomat and former prime minister, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. With Pahlavi's appointment as Shah of Iran, America would supply Iran with economic and military aid in return for Iranian oil. This irritated many Iranians but they assumed that they would benefit financially because of the new appointment and didn't retaliate. Their assumption was wrong and their patience would soon run low.

Pahlavi made various poor decisions and the people of Iran suffered effectually. The Shah also made promises to help them financially but he never followed through with any of them. Shah Pahlavi reaped the riches of the trade with the west but distributed very little of it to the people of Iran, the o
The cover of an issue of Time Magazine in 1979
The cover of an issue of Time Magazine in 1979
nes who needed it most. As the Shah's wealth grew and his life became more westernized, the Iranians, especially the religious conservatives, became more agitated with Pahlavi and the image of America as a whole. The religious sect started to riot and Pahlavi and his queen were forced to flee and in January 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini was given the throne. Khomeini grew extremely popular among the Iranian people for his nationalistic ideals and his anti-American politics. He grew famous for proclaiming that the United States was the "Great Satan", and that they were the largest "Enemy of Islam". But when Khomeini needed treatment for his lymphoma, he seeked help from a team of American doctors and was dubbed a hypocrite by the Iranian people and thus they attacked and siezed the American Embassy located in Teheran. For 444 days, 500 Iranians held 51 American citizens and diplomats captive within the embassy.

Reactions and Negotiations

President Jimmy Carter feared that taking military action was too risky. To help retrieve the embassy and the hostages unharmed he attacked Iran's economy. On the eleventh, only a week after the seizure of the embassy, Carter embargoed Iranian oil. Carter then froze all Iranian assets in the United States to further the financial toll on Iran. The Iranians, however, did not respond and it didn't seem as though the hostages were getting any closer to being released. Carter started to feel the pressure and gave the go ahead to operation "Eagle Claw". On the 21st of April, 1980, 132 men arrived in Wadi Kena, Egypt, the staging area for the operation. Three days later they were transported to "Desert One", the preparation area for the retrieval located 200 miles out of Teheran. As helicopters flew to the checkpoint, they were hit by a dust storm in which a helicopter was damaged. This left the Colonel Charles Beckwith, head of operation "Eagle Claw", short supplied and unable to carry out the rescue. To add to the embarassment, as the American forces took off to return to base, one of the helicopters crashed into one of the C-130s and killed eight men. Operation "Eagle Claw" ended in humiliating failure.

The October Surprise

The release of the hostages was the key to who would win the 1980 election between Carter and republican candidate, Ronald Reagan. President Carter's last effort to save the hostages, as well as his presidency, was his final offer of unfreezing $4 billion of the frozen assets. But Reagan's campaign managers contacted Khomeini and offered to unfreeze all of the money along with all of the weapons, Khomeini held the hostages and denied Carter's offer. Without the release of the hostages, Carter's public image suffered and Reagan won the election. Only minutes after Reagan's inauguration, the hostages were transported to a nearby airfield and sent home for their release. After 444 days of captivity, the hostages were finally free.

Curtis, Richard H. “Reprise of the October Surprise: Is the Worst Surprise Still to Come?.” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (May 1991): 11. n.d. <>.

Manning, Jason. “The Desert One Disaster.” The Eighties Club (2000): N. pag. n.d. <>.