The problem after that was there were very few viable options that would get Khomeini’s attention other than military options. Grasping at straws, on 28 November 1979 Carter suggested that Muhammad Ali go to Teheran to negotiate, since he was a world-famous figure and a Muslim. Ali went to Teheran, but nothing came of his high-profile visit to Iran. Using dormant back channels, the CIA communicated with Yasser Arafat (leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the PLO), who saw an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the US. Arafat communicated with Khomeini, and thirteen US hostages were released in the next few weeks. Iran announced the release and pointed out that all were African-Americans, released because they lived under tyranny in America.
Carter then tried to find another home for the Shah, figuring that if bringing in the Shah to the US caused the Iranian Hostage Crisis, then getting the Shah out of the US would mean their release. The only positive response in terms of agreeing to allow the Shah to enter their nation was Egypt’s Anwar Sadat. The Shah eventually returned to Egypt, and he died in that nation with 52 US hostages still in captivity in Iran.
With that failure, Carter decided that diplomacy was no longer the lead option in that it finally became obvious to the President that whomever the US talked to did not actually represent Khomeini. Jordan realized that the only resolution was to occur when Khomeini viewed the hostages as more of a cost than a benefit. The Iran-Iraq War began in September 1980, and that was when it became clear to Khomeini that he needed to release the hostages soon in order to stop the US sanctions that limited Iran’s ability to secure spare parts for the US aircraft that was already in their possession.
After the head of the Council of Jewish Federations, a US citizen, was executed by Khomeini in Teheran after trying to negotiate the release of the hostages, Carter, on 27 November 1979, issued Executive Order #12172 which expelled all non-resident Iranians from the US. That Executive Order also suspended visas for new arrivals, which affected thousands of Iranian students that had fled Khomeini’s reign of terror as well as Iranians that were Jews. All of those Iranians were at risk to be deported back to Iran.
Complications seemed endless in that 56,000 Iranian students were in the US, with 7000 of them in violation of their visas, and many others with invalid passports. Some had already been deported, and for those about to be deported, the only acceptable exceptions were if there was family in the US, a legitimate medical reason, or seeking asylum. There was also the reality that their families were still in Iran, and the problem of how to get them out of that nation. Eizenstat, among others, tried to come up with creative solutions so innocent Iranian Jews (and others) weren’t sent back to Iran under Carter’s Executive Order.
To Eizenstat, seeking asylum was the key, but he wondered how long the bureaucratic red tape would take with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Eizenstat had the idea that Iranian asylum applicants remain in bureaucratic limbo until the situation in Iran became more stable. The Director of the INS said that under those circumstances, the status of those seeking asylum would be static, in that their paperwork would be “accidentally” lost in the bureaucratic process, which meant they could legally remain in America.
When Reagan took office on 20 January 1981, his administration soon noticed the unprocessed INS applications and denied a significant number. Eizenstat, back in the private sector, knew a person in Reagan’s Circle of Trust, and clued him in as to what was really going on, and the bureaucratic delays continued. By the early months of 1980, it had become obvious that diplomatic efforts, international pressure, and economic sanctions were having no effect, and Carter started to work on a very different kind of solution to end the hostage crisis. Zbig, from the day the hostages were taken, started a secret military committee which met often, and their task was to plan a rescue operation.
Carter was apprised of a specific acceptable location that was designated Desert One, and the mission was codenamed Operation Eagle Claw. It was a daunting mission in that the US Embassy was totally surrounded by the city of Teheran, and further lengthening the odds against success was that the Pentagon had zero plans and soldiers trained for a mission such as this, even though other nations (most famously Israel with Operation Entebbe), had such forces.
In 1975, Delta Force was created, designed to be a top secret US Army covert strike force, which had at its disposal about 100 planes and helicopters. The Israeli architects of the raid on Entebbe were asked for their advice, and they stated that the location of the US Embassy made rescue impossible. One of the few factors that were in Carter’s favor was the target date of 24 April 1980, in that by then the captors had become prisoners of monotony and they were the farthest thing from trained crack troops. So, a quick surprise raid from Delta Force, it was surmised, could penetrate the embassy grounds and overwhelm the captors, and the hostages could be rescued.
The problem, contrary to the criticism afterwards, was that there were not too few helicopters, since Carter had authorized a total of eight, using six and keeping two in tow just in case. Eight helicopters were the maximum that could be on the deck of an aircraft carrier and not be detected by the USSR. To Zbig, the major problem was there were no plans for ancillary strikes to distract and misdirect the Iranian government and military; also, there was no plan to address the humiliation Carter would face if the mission failed.
On 24 April 1980 after over six months of planning, Operation Eagle Claw commenced. It took two weeks to get all the parts and personnel in place for the two night mission, including 132 Deltas, 13 Green Berets, 6 C-130s, 2 C-141 Starlifter strategic airlift planes, 8 RH-3 helicopters, and a secretly created airstrip at Desert One with landing lights . . .