R E G I O N: Nationalist sentiment on the rise in Iran
Hardliners celebrate botched US mission to save hostages
* Official says Divine intervention has always protected Iranian people
* China insists Iran nuclear issue should be resolved through negotiations
TEHRAN: Thousands of religious hardliners chanting “Death to America” gathered in Iran’s central desert on Tuesday to celebrate a failed US hostage rescue mission 26 years ago.
The anniversary of the US military debacle came amid a mounting war of words with Washington, reported to be mulling the use of force to rein in the Islamic republic’s disputed nuclear programme.
Iranian officials used the occasion to tell US leaders that they risked yet more “divine intervention” if they dared to again set foot on Iranian soil. “The Tabas incident should act as a reminder to US statesmen. They should not test us when they know the consequences,” the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Gholam Ali Hadad-Adel, told MPs.
In the early hours of April 25, 1980, a commando of 90 US special forces aboard six C-130 cargo planes and eight helicopters headed for Iran to try to free the hostages held at the US embassy in Tehran.
The helicopters had been due to land close to the seized embassy, but the operation turned into a disaster when the desert rendevous point – near the city of Tabas some 400 kilometres southeast of Tehran – was whipped by a sandstorm. The operation, codenamed Eagle Claw, resulted in the deaths of eight US servicemen and was quickly abandoned. Its failure also contributed to the subsequent election defeat of then US president Jimmy Carter.
“Again the American authorities are showing their teeth and say that a military option is on the table. It’s a good idea to remind them what happened on April 25, 1980,” Hadad-Adel said. State television meanwhile broadcast a film called “Sandstorm”, an Iranian docu-drama made in 1996. The film contends that the sand particles that ruined the mission were in fact “God’s soldiers” protecting the “holy regime of the Islamic republic.”
At the site of the desert rendezvous – still littered with small pieces of debris of a helicopter and C-130 – the event was celebrated with the inauguration of a roadside service station and a mosque.
The head of Iran’s ‘Foundation for Preserving Sacred Defence Values’, Mirfaisal Baqirzadeh, told the IRNA news agency that 3,000 supporters making the customary chant of “Death to America” were at the scene. “Divine intervention has always been a protector of the Iranian people,” his organisation said in a statement. “We should insist on our nuclear rights, since victory is with those who are patient.”
On Monday, Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar warned the United States it risked “a disgraceful defeat worse than the failure in Tabas desert,” should it attempt a new military intervention in Iran.
Iran and the United States broke diplomatic relations on April 8, 1980, following the taking of US hostages and before the Tabas operation. The UN Security Council has given the Islamic republic until the end of the month to halt its uranium enrichment activities, seen as the cover for a weapons drive. Iran has refused to comply with the demand, arguing it wants only to generate electricity.
Meanwhile, China insisted that the Iran nuclear issue could still be resolved through negotiations as it called on all sides to show flexibility in ending the escalating stand-off.
“We believe, in the current stage, there is still room to resolve this issue through negotiations,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters at a regular briefing.
“We call on all parties to show flexibility and allow a proper resolution of this issue through dialogue and negotiations. The international community should not abandon its efforts for peaceful negotiations. And all moves should be helpful to achieving this objective.”
Qin’s initial comments were made before Larijani spoke. But Qin said afterwards that the Iranian negotiator’s latest comments did not change China’s position.
“We hope all sides will exercise restraint and flexibility and continue to hold dialogue and negotiations so as to create favorable conditions to properly resolve the Iranian nuclear issue,” Qin said. Agencies