Argo which won three Oscars on Sunday was by no means a pro-Iranian film. Though Ben Affleck takes the trouble to present the plot – with a tinge of American heroism a la Hollywood – as it was supposed to have taken place, it is by all accounts a movie which shows how the Americans, posing off as Canadian movie makers, took the Iranians for a mighty big ride.
True, the operation to rescue six US diplomats hiding in the Canadian embassy in Teheran was a success story and warrants a movie. But will Ben Affleck or anyone of his ilk have the courage to make a movie on Operation Eagle Claw, also known as Operation Rice Bowl. This operation took place almost at the same time the Argo story folded and unfolded in Iranian territory.
Operation Eagle Claw was a Pentagon mission to rescue 52 American diplomats taken hostage by Iranian students who took part in the 1979 revolution that overthrew the pro-United States puppet regime of the Shah. Like Argo, this operation,too, had all the ingredients for a Hollywood thriller. It was hatched secretly by Pentagon pundits and sold to the then President Jimmy Carter. With Carter’s approval, the operation got underway at dusk on April 24, 1980 from the US aircraft carrier Nimitz in the Indian Ocean. Eight helicopters set out on the mission and they were to be joined by two C-130 Pathfinders helicopters coming from another location to provide fuel and other supplies necessary for the operation. The meeting place was a desert area on the outskirts of Teheran.
This is how the middleeast.about.com website describes what happened after the helicopters took off from Nimitz.
“Two hours into the journey, one of the helicopters’ rotor blades malfunctioned. The crew landed, abandoned the helicopter, and was picked up by another RH-53 (helicopter).
“An hour after that, the seven remaining helicopters encountered a dust cloud. The squadron made it through, only to encounter a larger, denser cloud an hour later. Another helicopter malfunctioned and opted to return to the Nimitz. The six remaining helicopters made it one by one to their refuelling spot, called Desert One, 50 to 85 minutes behind schedule. One of the helicopters’ hydraulic pumps failed on the way to the refuelling spot. There was no replacement pump, and there’d have been no time to replace it, had there been one. The mission was down to five operational helicopters, one short of the minimum commanders had agreed was required to succeed in a hostage rescue.
“On the phone from Washington, President Carter aborted the mission, ordering the remaining helicopters and the C-130s back to the Nimitz after refuelling.
“While repositioning during the refuelling operation, a helicopter slammed into a C-130, immediately engulfing both aircraft in flames, killing eight crew members and injuring five. Ammunition aboard the aircraft began to explode, damaging the remaining helicopters with shrapnel. The decision was made to abandon the helicopters and use the C-130s to fly back to the Nimitz. As the rescue of the rescue operation was unfolding, a bus full of Iranians drove by on the dirt road, forcing American troops to hold it hostage until the aircraft were ready to leave. Five of the helicopters were left behind intact, yielding valuable secret documents to Iranian authorities.”
Of course, Affleck may say that a film with such a story line will not make a box office hit.
The botched operation cost President Carter the reelection in November 1980. In came President Ronald Reagan, the actor-turned-politician, who adopted a gung-ho foreign policy that saw the US invade Grenada, launch an extra-judicial attack on Libya, illegally mine Nicaragua’s territorial waters and reject a ruling of the International Court of Justice, among other wrongdoings.
Besides these misdemeanours, the Reagan administration was also rocked by a political scandalknown as the Iran-contra Affair. The lid was blown off the scandal when newspapers reported how the United States bypassed its own sanction regime and Congressional legislation and sold weapons to a hostile Iran via Israel and diverted the revenue to the rightwing Contra rebels who were fighting the socialist regime in Nicaragua. The arms sales to Iran were taking place while the US was arming Iraq with sophisticated weapons and selling chemicals which dictator Saddam Hussein used in the making of chemical weapons that killed tens of thousands of Kurds in the north of Iraq and Shiites in the south.
It was also widely believed then that the secret arms sales to Iran were also intended to secure the release of seven Americans taken hostage by pro-Iranian militants in Lebanon.
The scandal underscores a reality that all is fair in love and politics. It was not so long ago that President Bush described Iran as an Axis-of-evil country. On the other hand, in Iranian rhetoric, the US is still the Great Satan. Yet, behind-the-scenes contacts are not totally abandoned, however hostile the two nations are. Such contacts are as useful today as they were during the Reagan administration and even the George W. Bush administration.
One may ask what the Bush administration’s link with Iran was. If Iran had wished, it could have created a bigger hell for the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, it adopted a well-calculated neutral stance which eventually saw a pro-Iranian Shiite-dominated government assuming power in Iraq. This is why Iraq’s Sunni opposition groups charge that a strong secret nexus exists between the US and Iran. However, the crippling US sanctions on Iran prove that the hostility between the two countries is also real.
It is in this context that this week’s nuclear talks aimed at finding a solution to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme assume significance. The Iranian compromise at the talks in Kazakhstan was as much an attempt by Teheran to extricate itself from US sanctions that have severely affected its economy as they were a move aimed at opening up to Washington, especially in view of the appointment of Chuck Hagel as the new Defence Secretary.
Hagel’s soft approach towards Iran has come under severe criticism from hardline Republicans. He has advocated talks with the Iranian regime and opposed sanctions and a military confrontation. In a speech in 2007, he said both Iran and the US shared a common interest in Afghanistan. Even during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee, Hagel described the Iranian regime as an “elected and legitimate” government, though he knew such a comment could have cost him the job.
Another factor that is being cited as a reason for Iran’s compromise at the Kazakhstan talks was that Iran has already reached the capability to produce a nuclear weapon. A few weeks ago, Iran introduced modern centrifuges and advanced devices at one of its well-guarded nuclear plants. Experts say these newcomponents could help Iran turn out bomb grade plutonium much faster. Iran also announced that it had discovered fresh uranium deposits, indicating its self-sufficiency in resources needed to produce nuclear energy. These developments or achievements have enabled Iran to announce its willingness to curtail its nuclear programme and grant wider access to International Atomic Energy Agency monitors in exchange for the easing of sanctions. Some experts say there is little use of sanctions since Iran has already reached the capability to cross what Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu calls the ‘Red Line’.
What bothers Israel is not Iran’s nuclear weapons but Israel’s loss of status as the Middle East’s only nuclear power. Israel possesses more than 300 nuclear warheads and is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran, a signatory to the NPT, on the other hand, says its nuclear programme is aimed at peaceful purposes. One wonders whether, if the Shah had been in power, Israel or the US would have imposed sanctions on Iran. After all, Iran’s nuclear programme was initiated by the US during the Shah era.
The question now arises as to how a jealous and hawkish Israel will react. Reacting to the latest IAEA report, Netanyahu’s office in a statement said:
“This is a very grave report which proves that Iran is continuing to make rapid progress toward the red line that Prime Minister Netanyahu sketched in his September 27, 2012 UN speech.
“Today, Iran is closer than ever to achieving enriched material for a nuclear bomb. Preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons is the first subject that Prime Minister Netanyahu will discuss with US President Barack Obama during the latter’s expected visit in less than a month.”
Netanyahu in his address to the United Nations General Assembly warned that if Iran crossed the red line, it would be attacked.
Months before the November elections, President Obama also said, “Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. The United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
It was widely believed that Obama’s closer-to-November statements were aimed at wooing the Jewish voters and their supporters. But now that the elections are over and Obama has no major compulsion to pacify the Jewish voters, he hardly has a political reason to be bellicose towards Iran. This has raised much anxiety among the Israeli leaders, who were not happy with the appointment of Hagel as defence secretary. Besides, there is not much love lost between Obama and Netanyahu. In September last year, Obama had the courage to snub Netanyahu who was in New York for the UN General Assembly sessions by not agreeing to meet him. Previously, Obama had criticised the Netanyahu regime for not heeding the US request that Israel should stop building settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.
However, as the presidential election drew near, Obama went all out to placate Israel. He even outdid his Republican rival Mitt Romney at the presidential debates in showing loyalty to Israel and commitment to its security. But Obama is a chameleon in politics;a huge gap exists between what he says and what he does.
It is amidst such blow-hot-blow-cold US-Israeli relations in recent years that the Obama visit to Israel has created greater interest in world politics. It is more so in view of the appointment of a new defence secretary who refuses to link Israel’s security with that of the US. So it is unlikely that Obama will give an assurance to Israel that the US will launch a military strike on Iran or support an Israeli attack on Iran.The Oscar goes to Iran.