Over 40-years ago, Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and took 98 hostages. The majority of them would be held for 444 days until they would be freed just before Ronald Reagan became President. 

The events that unfolded during the crisis would put in motion the creation of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), as several months earlier, an ad-hoc rescue attempt conducted by Army, Air Force, Marine, and Navy assets ended in a fireball at Desert One — the staging area that the rescuers would be making the attempt from.  So, in a manner of speaking, the Iranians were the driving force in creating SOCOM. 

Iran was a powder keg in the late 1970s. The hated Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, had been deposed and was sick, dying with cancer. The United States allowed Pahlavi to enter the U.S. to be treated for his cancer. 

Under his rule, Iran had been a close ally to the United States — although Pahlavi distrusted some presidents that he felt were openly plotting to replace him.

During the early 1970s, Iran had an economic boom similar to South Korea’s, as the Shah modernized the country and tried to steer it away from Islam. Labor laws were enacted that were very fair to the working class — although labor unions were abolished. Under the Shah, all religions were tolerated and Iranian Jews were even elected to office. He also recognized Israel as a de facto state — the first regional leader to do so. 

During 1978, dissension turned to outright revolt when the supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini, who was living in exile, began to spread his sermons into the country. And with the Shah’s increasing absence from public, due to his cancer, the thought-to-be untouchable ruler of Iran was suddenly seen as vulnerable. 

The “Black Friday” massacre of religious protesters in Tehran by the military further radicalized the protesters. In an attempt to quell demonstrations, the Shah allowed, in early October 1978, dissidents to return to Iran. 

In 1979, widespread protests crippled the country’s economy. Khomeini portrayed himself as a moderate for all the different factions to rally behind. The handwriting was on the wall. By early January 1979, the Shah left Iran for Egypt; but was soon jetting all over the world looking for a place to stay permanently. His regime was finished. Khomeini took over and appointed new government officials.