Angered by the arrival of the Shah for medical treatment in the U.S., militant students attacked and seized the American embassy in Teheran. The students held 49 embassy employees hostage for over a year. The U.S. attempted a rescue mission but it was aborted.
The Iran hostage crisis lasted from November 4, 1979, until January 20, 1981, where 52 American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage by Iranian militants for 444 days. This event was a pivotal point in U.S.-Iran relations and marked the beginning of an era of bitter animosity between the two countries.
The crisis began in the context of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which saw the overthrow of the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a close ally of the United States. The revolution was led by the religious cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who sought to establish an Islamic Republic and reduce Western influence in Iran.
In October 1979, the Shah, suffering from cancer, was admitted into the U.S for medical treatment, which incensed Iranian revolutionaries who wanted him to stand trial in Iran for alleged crimes committed during his rule. They accused the U.S of protecting a tyrant and demanded his extradition.
On November 4, 1979, a group of Iranian students, belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 66 Americans hostage. They demanded the return of the Shah in exchange for the hostages. Although the Shah was seriously ill and not expected to live much longer, the U.S. refused to meet their demands.
The hostages were blindfolded, bound, and subjected to numerous indignities and psychological torture over the next 444 days. Meanwhile, the U.S. worked tirelessly to secure their release. In addition to diplomatic efforts, the U.S. attempted a military rescue mission known as Operation Eagle Claw in April 1980, but the mission was aborted due to mechanical failures and adverse weather, resulting in the death of eight American servicemen.
The crisis held the world's attention for over a year, casting a shadow over U.S. domestic politics as well. It significantly impacted President Jimmy Carter's presidency, contributing to his defeat in the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan. The crisis also had profound implications for U.S.-Iran relations, setting the stage for decades of animosity, mistrust, and conflict.
In 1981, after prolonged negotiations, the Algiers Accords were signed, in which the U.S. pledged to not interfere in Iran's internal affairs and to release Iranian assets in U.S. banks, while Iran agreed to release the hostages. On January 20, 1981, minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the United States, the hostages were released, ending a 444-day ordeal that had gripped the nation.
The Iran hostage crisis left an indelible mark on U.S.-Iran relations. The severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries, ongoing to this day, and the U.S.'s subsequent support for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War further deepened the animosity. The hostage crisis also affected the American psyche, casting Iran as a key antagonist in the Middle East, and leading to a perception of the U.S. as vulnerable to the actions of non-state actors.