Iran and the US have been locked in vicious tensions for decades, but the situation threatened to boil over in the early Eighties when 52 Americans were taken hostage at the US embassy in Tehran for more than a year. The diplomatic standoff started after the Iranian Revolution overthrew Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was granted asylum in the US, but Iran demanded his return in order to stand trial for crimes that he was accused of committing during his reign. As a result, a group of Iranian college students who supported the revolution, seized the US embassy in Tehran, taking 52 American hostages in the process, in what was described as an act of “blackmail” of which the hostages were “victims of terrorism and anarchy,” by President Jimmy Carter.
In response, Carter authorised a military rescue mission known as Operation Eagle Claw, sending warships to the waters near Iran, alongside a rescue helicopter, but bad weather saw one of the helicopters crash and mechanical failure doomed the vessels, a shocking embarrassment to Carter who was in the midst of an election campaign and his opponent, Ronald Reagan, pounced on the opportunity, winning in a landslide.
Reflecting on his decision in 2014, Carter told CNBC: “I think I would have been re-elected easily if I had been able to rescue our hostages from the Iranians.
“Everybody asks me what I would do, well I would send one more helicopter, because if I had one more helicopter we could have not only brought the 52 hostages back, but also the rescue team.
“When that (the helicopter) failed I think it was the main factor that brought about my failure to be re-elected.
“So that’s one thing I would changed.”
Rosalynn Carter revealed how her husband refused to take advice from everyone around him.
She said: “I would say ’do something, anything’ and he would say ‘and have them taken out and executed in front of the world?’
“He was firm, he was tough, we knew he would probably not be re-elected for it, but he didn’t give in.
“I was proud of him, peace is very difficult because war is so popular in our country.”
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The failed attempt on April 24, 1980, resulted in the death of one Iranian civilian, and the accidental deaths of eight American servicemen after one of the helicopters crashed into a transport aircraft.
In September the same year, the Iraqi military invaded Iran, beginning the Iran–Iraq War, events which led the Iranian government to re-enter negotiations with the US.
The hostages were formally released into US custody minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn into office.
The crisis led to economic sanctions against Iran, in what was the beginning of the end for positive relationships between the two.
But things could have been much worse.
The incident came at the height of the Cold War and had the US used a nuclear weapon on Iran, it is quite possible that the Soviet Union – an ally – would have responded.
The ending of the Iran hostage crisis may have also helped swerve a World War 3 scenario.