Causes of the US Hostage Crisis in Iran: The Untold Account of the Communist Threat Academic Article uri icon


  • 2017 Columbia University Press. Used by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved. This article provides a revisionist account of the occupation of the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979, one of the most conspicuous manifestations of anti-Americanism in recent history. Drawing solely upon primary documents, largely from various Iranian communists and Islamists, it questions the conventional wisdom that the Islamists' takeover of the embassy was a grassroots reaction to American policies, particularly after President Carter admitted the ailing Shah. It also challenges the argument that the radical students stormed the embassy primarily to bring down the nationalist provisional government. Instead, I introduce a critical overlooked factor and argue that the Hostage Crisis can be better explained as a preemptive act by the Islamists to outbid the leftists' anti-American activities. I demonstrate that the United States and the Islamists were seeking to maintain normal relations during and even after the 1979 revolution. However, various communist organizations that surfaced after the revolution posed an existential threat to the new Islamist-nationalist government, quickly dominating universities, labor unions, and intellectual circles throughout the country and accusing the Islamists and their nationalist allies of collaborating with the United States. In this climate, the Islamists strategically adopted the Left's anti-imperialist language and eventually occupied the US embassy to establish their anti-American credibility.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 40.05

author list (cited authors)

  • Tabaar, M. A.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Tabaar, Mohammad Ayatollahi

publication date

  • October 2017