Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Witnessed: The Iran Hostage Crisis": documentary on CNN recalls this incident 35 years ago

On Oct. 28, CNN aired a 35-anniversay special, “Witnessed: The Iran Hostage Crisis”, commemorating the event of Sunday, November 4, 1979 when “student rebels” took control of the US embassy in Teheran and took 52 people (actually 66 at first) hostage. The basic link is here
Most of the one-hour film consists of interviews of the hostages who remain alive today, and who are largely in their sixties and seventies now.  A number of them expected to be killed, and some thought that others had been killed.

CNN says that this was the first time that militant Islam was politicized.  That may not be completely true: the Arab Oil Embargo in the fall of 1973 was certainly “political”, but this was the first time that civilians were targeted, although overseas.  An embassy is technically the soil of the owning country – the US, so in a sense this was like a domestic attack.

Imagine what it must have felt like, to know that your own government was helpless and had to “negotiate with terrorists”.

The seizure was motivated by anger when the United States allowed the former Shah of Iran into the uS for cancer treatment.  The militants wanted the Shah to stand trial in Iran, but he died anyway.

For a while, the new Iranian government under Ayatollah Khomeini supported the militants. Originally, it had been expected that the holding of embassy employees would only last a couple of days, but Khomeini escalated the crisis.
Over time, the hostages became a burden, and some militants wanted a way out.  Hatred of Jimmy Carter seemed to be the common denominator.  (Carter had angered them by praising the Shah in 1978.)  The plane taking the hostages to Germany left the moment that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1981.  The hostages were held for 444 calendar days.  A military attempt had failed in April 1980 when a chopper crashed in a sandstorm and the casualties had to be abandoned.
EDS, however, under Ross Perot, had launched a commando raid to free two employees earlier in 1979, when they had been arrested in Iran in 1978 (story).  The EDS property on Forest Lane in Dallas (now belonging to Trinity Industries) contained a public sign counting the days the hostages had been held.  I often drove past it, as I was living in Dallas at the time. 
The hostage crisis suggested to militant Islam that it can “get away with it”, although this was Shia Islam. The crisis was also the subject of the film "Argo" directed by Ben Affleck (movies blog, Oct. 14, 2012). 
Wikipedia attribution link for DOD picture of hostage return. 

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