DASHT-E-KAVIR, Iran – Hundreds of Iranians on Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of a failed U.S. military operation to rescue American hostages in Tehran, with prayers and words of defiance for Washington.
The 1980 rescue attempt – called Operation Eagle Claw – turned into a major embarrassment for the U.S. when an American helicopter collided with a C-130 transport plane at a desert landing spot during a sandstorm. Eight U.S. servicemen were killed.
As in years past, hundreds of hardline Iranians, many of them members of the paramilitary Basij volunteers, gathered at the crash site, some 370 miles southeast of Tehran, to celebrate the failed rescue.
Hardline parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani told those gathered, most of whom had been bused to the site, that the failed American mission “humiliated the arrogant” U.S. administration.
Iran’s hard-liners claim the mission was part of a U.S. military offensive to topple the country’s hardline clerical rulers who had overthrown the pro-U.S. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi a year earlier.
The anniversary ceremony comes as Tehran is locked in a diplomatic standoff with the U.S. over its disputed nuclear program. President Barack Obama recently announced a new nuclear strategy that includes a vow not to use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them.
The U.S. suspects Iran’s nuclear program aims to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says it’s designed solely for peaceful purposes.
The hostage crisis began Nov. 4, 1979, when the U.S. embassy was seized in Tehran. One hostage was freed because of illness after the rescue attempt, and the other 52 were released after 444 days in captivity. The U.S. and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since Iran’s 1979 revolution.
The Eagle Claw mission was first aborted after mechanical problems disabled two of eight U.S. Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and a third turned back in the face of a dust storm.
But the operation turned into a disaster when one helicopter tried to leave a desolate rendezvous spot in Iran in a cloud of dust and crashed into a parked C-130 cargo plane loaded with 44 Delta troops.