The enduring stain of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis

The enduring stain of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis
Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for 444 days after students and militants took over the US Embassy in support of the Iranian Revolution. (Getty Images)
Updated 08 November 2019

The enduring stain of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis

The enduring stain of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis
  • Forty years ago on Nov. 4, a mob of Iranian students seized the US embassy in Tehran
  • The consequences of the 1979 events reverberate to this day across the Middle East

DUBAI: Forty years ago, a mob of Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran and took dozens of staff members hostage. On Monday, demonstrators chanting “Down with USA” and “Death to America” gathered in front of the same building as state TV aired videos of rallies in other Iranian cities.

Many of the ugly sentiments from 1979 remain today amid renewed tensions between the two countries, following the unraveling of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and the re-imposition of US sanctions on the Iranian economy.
“Thanks to God, today the revolution’s seedlings have evolved into a fruitful and huge tree. Its shadow has covered the entire Middle East,” said Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander of the Iranian army, in what was a clear allusion to the “crescent of power” that today stretches from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
There is no denying that 40 years after the Islamic Revolution, Iran’s “shadow” covers large expanses of the Middle East. It has expanded since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. But to those living under Iran’s shadow, the “fruitful and huge tree” stands for a combination of religious fundamentalism, cross-border terrorism, domestic repression and foreign meddling.
Currently, Iraq and Lebanon are witnessing massive anti-government demonstrations. While those protests are fueled by local grievances and mainly directed at political elites, they pose a clear danger to Iran, which backs both governments and powerful militias in each country.
“Although many originally came out over issues of jobs, the cost of living and failing services, the protests evolved into an existential confrontation with the agents of Iran and their malign impact on society,” wrote political commentator Baria Alamuddin for Arab News.
If there is a specific date for the beginning of Iran’s “malign impact,” it is arguably Nov. 4, 1979.

The assault that day on the US Embassy in Tehran was the culmination of protests by supporters of the revolution, demanding the extradition of the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was in the US receiving treatment for cancer.
According to an AP report from the time, “a mob of Iranian students overran US Marine guards in a three-hour struggle Sunday and invaded the American Embassy in Tehran, seizing dozens of staff members as hostages, Tehran Radio reported.” After seven days, the women and African-Americans were freed.
In April 1980, US President Jimmy Carter cut diplomatic ties with Iran, imposed more sanctions and ordered all Iranian diplomats to leave the US. The same month, a failed US mission to rescue the hostages resulted in several deaths, including eight US soldiers.
Finally, on Jan. 20, 1981, after secret negotiations that resulted in the signing of an agreement to free Iranian assets, the remaining 52 Americans were flown to Wiesbaden air base in Germany.
The hostage-taking marked the moment US-Iranian relations began deteriorating sharply.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Under the shah, relations were good as Iran was more or less Washington’s main strategic ally in the region, having a status equivalent to, if not higher than, Israel.
The release of the hostages signaled the end of a traumatic chapter in US diplomatic history, but for Arab countries of the Middle East, it marked the beginning of an era of terrorism, sectarianism and conflicts that continue to this day.
A demonstration on Monday outside the Iranian consulate in Iraq’s holy city of Karbala saw protestors spray-painting “Karbala is free, Iran out!” on walls. Posters of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have been burnt — the protests have cost the lives of more than 250 people.
In Lebanon, a movement against corruption and the official confessional system has paralyzed the country for three weeks. Along with demands for a non-sectarian government, protesters have aimed anger at Tehran. “Iran wants to close its ears as it has caused poverty, militia dominance in other countries and government failure. The truth is that the accusations match reality,” wrote Arab News columnist Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed on Oct. 31.
In retrospect, the hostage crisis came as a major shock to the West. US intelligence had failed to anticipate it or the revolution. The consequences of that reverberate to this day across the Middle East. Attacking diplomatic posts remains an Iranian tactic. A mob stormed the UK Embassy in Tehran in 2011, while Saudi Arabian diplomatic posts were attacked in 2016.

FORTY YEARS OF ANIMOSITY

1979 - The Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, forced to leave country on Jan. 16 after months of protests and strikes.

1979 - US diplomats and citizens taken hostage after Iranian students seize US Embassy on Nov. 4 in Tehran in violation of Vienna Convention, demanding return of the shah to stand trial.

1980 - US cuts diplomatic ties with Iran, seizes Iranian assets and restricts trade with the Islamic Republic. Failed US mission on April 24 to rescue the hostages results in several deaths.

1981 - On Jan. 20, 52 US hostages freed after spending 444 days in captivity as part of a “final complete agreement.”

1984 - Iran listed by the administration of US President Ronald Reagan as a state sponsor of terrorism.

1985-86 - Iran-Contra scandal sheds light on secret deal during Reagan’s presidency to ship weapons to Iran in exchange for help in freeing US hostages held by Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

1988 - Mistaking an Airbus A300 for a fighter jet, warship USS Vincennes shoots down Iran Air flight in the Gulf on July 3, killing all 290 on board.

2002 - Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, branded “axis of evil” by US President George W. Bush.

2002 - Iran accused by US of having a clandestine nuclear weapons program after opposition group reveals details of uranium enrichment facilities.

2012 - New law allows US President Barack Obama to sanction foreign banks if they fail to reduce their Iranian oil imports.

2013 - Obama speaks by phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in September. 2015 - Iran signs deal — called JCPOA — with world powers, including the US, to limit its nuclear activities and allow international inspectors.

2016 - US lifts nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.

2018 - US President Donald Trump abandons nuclear deal and reinstates sanctions against Iran and countries that trade with it.

2019 - In April, US designates Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. Additional sanctions imposed in May.

2019 - Iran shoots down US military drone over Strait of Hormuz on June 20.

2019 - Iranian demonstrators mark 40th anniversary of hostage crisis with slogans of “Down with USA” and “Death to America” in front of the former US Embassy in Tehran.


Fears grow for Iranian dual-national prisoners ahead of Raisi inauguration

Fears grow for Iranian dual-national prisoners ahead of Raisi inauguration
Updated 05 August 2021

Fears grow for Iranian dual-national prisoners ahead of Raisi inauguration

Fears grow for Iranian dual-national prisoners ahead of Raisi inauguration
  • Iranian news outlets quote official as saying Tehran has “no incentive” for prisoner exchanges
  • UK govt spokesman: “Iran’s continued arbitrary detention of our dual nationals is unacceptable”

LONDON: Iranian media reports that Tehran has cooled interest in prisoner swaps with Western nations has thrown into doubt the release of British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and future relations between the two countries.

The Nour news website quoted a senior Iranian official on Tuesday as saying Tehran had “no incentive” to proceed with proposed prisoner transfers with the US, and a plan with the UK to exchange Zaghari-Ratcliffe for £400 million ($557 million) owed as part of a failed arms deal in 1979 had stalled after London also sought the release of environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who holds both UK and US citizenship, as part of the negotiations. 

The shift in policy is thought to stem from the impending inauguration of new hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, which is set to take place on Thursday. 

He is accused by a multitude of international bodies of serious human rights violations — including murder, enforced disappearance and torture — during his tenure as head of Iran’s judiciary.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Imam Khomeini International Airport in 2016 on charges of espionage, and imprisoned for “plotting to topple the Iranian government.”

She has repeatedly been denied representation from the UK in her dealings with the Iranian court system, and was sentenced to a further year in prison in April on propaganda charges. She has always denied all allegations made against her.

On Wednesday, an Iranian court sentenced another British-Iranian, Mehran Raouf, to over 10 years in prison on charges of undermining the regime, alongside German-Iranian Nahid Taghavi.

Iran has been accused of engaging in “hostage diplomacy” to achieve various political ends. A UK government spokesman told the Daily Telegraph: “Iran’s continued arbitrary detention of our dual nationals is unacceptable. We urge the Iranian authorities to release the detainees without any further delay.”


Iranian commandos failed to storm tanker after engines disabled: Intelligence source

Iranian commandos failed to storm tanker after engines disabled: Intelligence source
Updated 05 August 2021

Iranian commandos failed to storm tanker after engines disabled: Intelligence source

Iranian commandos failed to storm tanker after engines disabled: Intelligence source
  • “US and Omani warships turned up and the Iranians got into some boats and went off”
  • Operation took place 5 days after deadly drone strike on tanker blamed on Iran

LONDON: Iranian special forces commandos raided a tanker in the Arabian Sea but failed to divert it to their country after the crew disabled the vessel’s engines, a source with access to intelligence about the incident told The Times.

Iranian Navy operators boarded the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess near the Strait of Hormuz, before fleeing after the ship was rendered inoperable and US, Omani forces approached, the source said.
The operation off the UAE coast on Tuesday took place five days after the Iberian-flagged Mercer Street tanker, operated by an Israeli-linked UK-based company, was attacked by a drone in Omani waters. 
The explosion killed a British Army veteran and a Romanian, both of whom were working on the ship. 
The UN Security Council “must respond to Iran’s destabilising actions and lack of respect for international law,” tweeted UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
The Times’ source said intelligence indicated that “armed Iranians stormed the (Asphalt Princess) vessel and tried to take it back to Iran but the crew scuppered the engines, so that is why it was shown bobbing in the water. Then US and Omani warships turned up and the Iranians got into some boats and went off.”


‘Limited change’ is most Lebanese can expect warns Paul Salem, Middle East Institute president

‘Limited change’ is most Lebanese can expect warns Paul Salem, Middle East Institute president
Updated 05 August 2021

‘Limited change’ is most Lebanese can expect warns Paul Salem, Middle East Institute president

‘Limited change’ is most Lebanese can expect warns Paul Salem, Middle East Institute president

Confronted by its worst economic crisis in decades and still reeling from last year’s massive explosion at its main port, Lebanon faces a long road to recovery and its people should only expect “limited change” even from elections, a veteran Lebanese American analyst predicted on Wednesday.

With the Lebanese government failing to investigate the real causes of the massive Beirut seaport blast that claimed the lives of more than 200 people one year ago on Aug. 4, Paul Salem, president of the Middle East Institute, has warned the world not to expect too much change.

Salem said that although parliamentary and presidential elections were scheduled for next year, and pressure was increasing from international powers such as France and the US, it was currently “a terrible time” for Lebanon and he expected “a long slog” ahead for the nation.

“Lebanon will remain crippled as long as there is an independent army, Hezbollah, that belongs to another country that has its entire security defense and political game. But things need not be as bad as they are now,” Salem added during a Wednesday appearance on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, sponsored by Arab News on the US Arab Radio Network.

“There are some things that can be changed and some things that don’t seem possible to be changed. What is changeable is there are a number of politicians, including the current president and his party, which in the last elections got a majority in the Christian seats. There are other politicians who were elected and who are deeply mired in corruption.”

Salem noted that one year into the current crisis, “the ruling politicians, if you want to call them that, have done nothing.”

He pointed out that a new government had not been formed, that a proper investigation had not taken place into the Beirut explosion that many allege involved a weapons cache of ammonium nitrate used by Iran-backed Hezbollah in its worldwide network of violence, and that the Lebanese government was working with Hezbollah.

“The government, and Hezbollah behind them, because Hezbollah dominates the government. Its president is their ally or their client. The current caretaker prime minister is their ally or client. The speaker of parliament is as well. The government has prevented a serious investigation,” Salem said, adding that elections put the current government in power and could also bring about change.

“Nobody from the government has taken accountability of responsibility although all of the documentation shows that they knew, and they have known it for years. But there has not been an investigation to get beyond conjecture and get to real evidence.”

He said Lebanon was going through “one of the worst periods in its modern history,” and the explosion had only worsened the economic crisis.

“That blast came in the midst of a complete economic banking monetary finance meltdown. It also came in the midst of a political uprising that started in October 2019, about a year before,” Salem added.

“The blast itself is a combination of two dysfunctions. One is largescale corruption and unaccountability of a government oligarchy that is in power without being held accountable for this or other set of crimes.

“The other dynamic is the existence of an independent, armed group, Hezbollah, in the country which operates its own security and defense operations in coordination with Tehran and Iran.”

Salem noted that Hezbollah “had a big presence in the ports” and that it was possible “that those explosive materials were being used, possibly, in Syria.”

He said government change in Lebanon was “going nowhere” despite the crises faced by the country.

“They hope for elections in the spring in order to make some sort of electoral difference. There is a lot of despair. Hezbollah is there through force of arms. No matter how many elections or how many protests you hold, we saw how fiercely they fought in Syria with Iran to defend the (Syrian President Bashar) Assad regime.

“People have no illusions that they will go away because of a protest or an election. Until you have real sovereignty in a country you really can’t begin building proper governments.

“Hezbollah is an armed force, is there by force, and there is very little that unarmed citizens can do about it,” Salem added.

Bolstered by international calls targeting corruption in Lebanon’s government, Lebanese protesters have one hope at this time, to turn toward the elections next year.

Salem pointed out that the current government of President Michel Aoun came to power by building an alliance with Hezbollah.

He said: “I think what we are looking toward now in this public protest movement indicates or should lead to a limited change within the country. It is not the case that everybody has to accept Hezbollah’s power, has to be allied with it.

“Those were political choices. I think some of those will change over the next year. Hezbollah will remain. But I think its current phase of pretty complete dominance might decline in a limited way, but it will remain an obstacle to real state building.”

The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast every Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. EST on the US Arab Radio Network sponsored by Arab News on WNZK AM 690 radio in Detroit, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington, D.C. For more information on the radio show and its podcast archive, visit ArabNews.com.


Iraqi, Iranian heads of state discuss bilateral relations

Iraqi, Iranian heads of state discuss bilateral relations
Updated 05 August 2021

Iraqi, Iranian heads of state discuss bilateral relations

Iraqi, Iranian heads of state discuss bilateral relations
  • The relations between the two neighboring countries, and their importance, was discussed during their meeting, Iraqi National News Agency reported

DUBAI: Iraq’s President Barham Salih met his Iranian counterpart, President Ebrahim Raisi, in Tehran on Thursday, ahead of the newly elected leader’s oath taking ceremony before parliament.
The relations between the two neighboring countries, and their importance, was discussed during their meeting, Iraqi National News Agency reported. 
Hardline cleric Raisi, who was endorsed by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, won the election in June and succeeded Hassan Rouhani, who is viewed in the West as a moderate.
Raisi will lead a country facing a number of growing challenges coupled with an economy that has been crippled by US-led sanctions.


Kuwait returns to pre-pandemic working hours, eases flight restrictions

Kuwait returns to pre-pandemic working hours, eases flight restrictions
Updated 05 August 2021

Kuwait returns to pre-pandemic working hours, eases flight restrictions

Kuwait returns to pre-pandemic working hours, eases flight restrictions
  • Over 100,000 appointments are made daily for vaccination

DUBAI: The Kuwaiti cabinet approved the return of usual working hours across all government bodies starting Aug. 15, as coronavirus infections in the country show steadily improvement, state news agency KUNA reported on Thursday. 

In the cabinet meeting, Dr. Bassel Humoud Al-Sabah, Kuwaiti minister of health, said over 100,000 appointments are made daily for vaccination.

He noted a continued decline in coronavirus-related deaths, infections and hospitalizations, and highlighted ministry efforts to speed up vaccination to reach herd immunity.

Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al-Sabah announced those belonging to age categories not targeted by the health ministry’s vaccination campaign and those exempted for health reasons will be allowed to travel unvaccinated as of Sept. 1.