On the 36th Anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the Conflicted History of U.S.-Iran Relations

anti-shahAs the nation of Iran commemorates the 36th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which overthrew the dictatorship of the U.S.-supported monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran – a nation Western imperialists privately admit has been a thorn in their side ever since by thwarting their designs for regional hegemony in the so-called “Middle East”. Though the aims of the revolution were by no means unanimously agreed upon, with many not supporting the establishment of an religious-based theocracy, it cannot be denied that Iran has been a source of resistance against the ambitions of the globalists and imperialists. Nor can it be denied that the Shi’ite nation remains in the cross-hairs of the U.S. Military establishment and its Israeli allies who constantly sound the drums of war by asserting that Iran seeks to develop a nuclear weapon. The profound hypocrisy of this is that the U.S. possesses some 2,000 nuclear warheads while Israel has an estimated 300, the latter being the only nation in that region to be nuclearly-armed (unless one considers Pakistan to be part of “the region”). The following video produced by Monitor Mideast gives a brief history of the mistrust many Iranians feel regarding the underlying motivations of the U.S.’s role in the current “nuclear negotiations” taking place between Iran and the P5+1.

[The following is not my material. It is re-posted from the Liberation News website. All credit goes to Mazda Majidi of LiberationNews.org for writing it.]

Significance of 35th anniversary of US-Iran hostage crisis


November 4 marked the 35th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. For the ensuing 444 days, the hostage crisis was at the top of international news. U.S. news programs often started and ended their coverage with a daily count of the days since the start of the hostage crisis with titles like “America Held Hostage.”

Prior to that event, the Iranian provisional government, led by Mehdi Bazargan, had been attempting to re-establish good relations with the United States. President Carter had hoped to build a strategic anti-communist alliance with the new Iranian state. Given the strong anti-communist character of all the factions of the Iranian government and the conciliatory tendency of the Bazargan administration, this was not an entirely unrealistic expectation. But the hostage crisis made a rapprochement between the two countries impossible. U.S. policy towards Iran effectively became one of “regime change,” which continues to this day.

25 Years of tyranny

The roots of the hostage crisis can be found in the Shah’s dictatorship in the quarter century leading up to the revolution. The U.S. government has propped up right-wing dictators and criminal states all over the world. But the Shah was not just armed and supported by the U.S. He had been installed into power by the U.S.

Prior to 1953, Iran had a vibrant parliamentary system. Shah (Farsi for King) Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was a constitutional monarch with a ceremonial role. But in the early 1950s, a strong communist-led movement arose demanding the nationalization of oil, which was being stolen by the British Anglo-Persian Oil Company oil. It is said that Anglo-Persian paid more in taxes to the British government than it paid Iran for the oil.

Following the election of nationalist Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh as prime minister, the government nationalized the oil. The British and the U.S. promptly imposed sanctions on Iran. But Mosaddegh survived the crisis and shut down the British Embassy. Then, in the largest operation of its kind to date, through operation Ajax, the CIA overthrew Mosaddegh and installed the Shah as an absolute monarch.

From 1953 to the 1979 revolution, the Shah’s government ruthlessly repressed all opposition forces, leftists, nationalists and Islamists. The Shah’s dreaded secret service, the SAVAK, trained and equipped by the CIA and the Israeli Mossad, routinely used torture and execution of political activists. Iran was a loyal client state for the U.S. And, of course, successive U.S. administrations backed the Shah. Emblematic of this support was President Jimmy Carter traveling to Iran in January 1978, toasting the Shah and calling Iran “an island of stability.”

Revolution in 1979

Over a year of mass protests and widespread strikes led to the overthrow of the client state. After the Shah fled Iran, the U.S. embassy stayed open but the staff was drastically reduced from a high of nearly 1,000 down to about 80. The embassy was much more than an office staffed by civil servants simply processing paperwork and issuing visas. In fact, the U.S. embassy in Tehran was effectively the command headquarters of the country, through which Washington issued its dictates to the Shah. The Shah would not make any major decisions without Washington’s approval. U.S. Ambassador William Sullivan writes about how, to the very end, the Shah was still looking to him for answers on how to react to the revolution.

The Embassy takeover

Days after the overthrow of the Shah, the U.S. embassy was occupied by the Fedayeen guerillas, a Marxist group that had waged an armed struggle against the Shah. But the new government intervened and gave the embassy back to U.S. officials within three hours.

On October. 22, 1979, the Shah traveled to the U.S., purportedly seeking medical treatment for lymphoma. He had been offered medical services by Switzerland, but he preferred to live in the U.S., where he must have felt safer under the protection of his longtime master. The Shah’s entry into the U.S. angered the Iranian people, who rightly considered the U.S. responsible for the Shah’s crimes.

On Nov. 4, a group of students that called themselves “Muslim Student Followers of Imam’s line,” took over the U.S. Embassy. The group’s main demand was that the U.S. return the Shah to Iran to stand trial for his crimes. The group’s other demands included an apology from the U.S. government for the overthrow of Prime Minster Mosaddegh and the releasing of Iran’s frozen assets in the U.S. The students’ initial objective was to gain worldwide publicity for its protest, as stated by one of the organizers: “Announcing our objections from within the occupied compound would carry our message to the world in a much more firm and effective way.”The Carter administration’s response: “The United States will not yield to blackmail.”

The unwillingness of the Carter administration to offer even symbolic concessions, and subsequent developments within Iran and internationally, turned what was planned to be a short protest into an international crisis that was to last for over a year.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s revolution, had no advance knowledge of the U.S. embassy seizure plans. But, once the event took place, he soon embraced and supported it. The takeover of the embassy and Khomeini’s support left the provisional government with little room to maneuver. The government was not only opposed to the embassy takeover but in favor of expanding relations with the West. Just days later, Bazargan’s government was forced to resign.

Shortly after the embassy takeover, the students released women and African American personnel, citing solidarity with “oppressed minorities.” Another hostage, Richard Queen, was released in 1980 due to health problems. The remaining 52 hostages remained in captivity for 444 days.

On April 24, 1980, the Carter administration attempted a rescue. But Operation Eagle Claw was aborted after a helicopter crashed into a tanker aircraft in the middle of a sand storm in a desert in Iran, killing eight service members. A second planned rescue attempt was never carried out.

The hostages were released into U.S. custody on Jan. 20, 1980, at the very same time that newly elected U.S. President Ronald Reagan was being sworn into office. The timing of the release has given rise to speculation that Reagan might have negotiated with Iranian officials. Gary Sick, senior member of President Carter’s National Security Council, claims in his book, October Surprise, that William Casey and possibly George H.W. Bush went to Paris on behalf of Reagan to delay the release. Years later, the Iran-Contra Affair was a documented case of Reagan negotiating in secret with the Islamic Republic of Iran to by-pass Congress to continue funding the criminal Contras in Nicaragua. On the Iranian side, to this day, a key factor dividing the different factions of government has been whether or not to try to re-establish relations with the United States and how much concessions to give. Former president Rafsanjani and various political forces associated with him, including former president Khatami and the current president Rouhani, are for reaching a compromise with the U.S.

The nuclear negotiations

As the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, it is important to understand that these are not negotiations between forces of equal strength. The negotiations are about imperialist powers attempting to force their will on an oppressed country through the use of economic sanctions and the threat of military action.

It is unclear whether an agreement will be reached. What is clear is that the terms offered Iran are a reflection of imperialist foreign policy. With thousands of nuclear weapons of its own, the U.S. and its allies are imposing severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program for suspicions that it may one day have a military component.

The hostage crisis was the historic reaction of an oppressed nation to being forced to live under the terror of a U.S. client for a quarter century. The same imperialist interests that motivated the engineering of the 1953 CIA coup are motivating the drive to weaken or overthrow the Iranian state today.

Mazda Majidi is a long-time activist for socialism and a member of the PSL. He has written extensively on U.S. intervention in the Middle East.

11 thoughts

  1. Thanks for the great post.

    Here some additions from me:

    The US makes a big fuss about “the hostage crisis” letting Iran suffer for something that happened 1979 (more than 35 years ago) and where not a single American was harmed (no orange jumpsuits, no beating, no torture, just 52 Americans from the same embassy that organized the 1953 CIA coup hold under arrest in a hotel with probably great Persian food). The killing of 290 Iranian civilians on the other hand, and providing help to Saddam Hussein at a time where he was using chemical weapons against Iranians on a daily basis, is something that US never mentions. It seems that it was just the right of the super power.

    Now again Iran has to suffer until today (sanctions) because of something from more than 35 years ago, while Germany was part of the western world and got a lot of financial help (marshal plan) just few years after killing millions of Jews and gypsies, and starting a war with dozens of millions of deads.

    Still Iranians are very positive towards the people of the US:




    1. Thank you so much for your excellent commentary! It’s apparent the U.S. government has no shame when it comes to be truly loathsome and hypocritical. For the longest time it would not even admit to shooting down the Iranian passenger flight, then when it could no longer deny it refuses to even apologize!! The Iranian people seem to be a very kind and forgiving people to even come to the point of talking to the U.S. after all the hell they have been through from the brutal imperialist.

      Another thing I might add is that the U.S. would later use the chemical weapons which were manufactured and sold to Saddam by the United States as an EXCUSE to invade and destroy Iraq! Only in America could there be minds so demented it seems.

  2. The CIA overthrow of Mossadegh’s democratically elected government clearly inaugurated the CIA institution of overthrowing governments unfriendly to US interests. Ukraine is only the most recent example.

    1. So true. And don’t forget their very very first foray into installing a pro-West government was actually in Syria of all places in 1949 in what was described as a bloodless coup.

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