Operation Nimrod: The Iranian Embassy Seige, by Russell Phillips
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by the author in exchange for an honest review.]
It is intriguing when one reads a set of books by the same author what patterns can be determined . So far, among the author’s works I am familiar with, all of which are fairly short and to the point, there have been two types of books: books about the military equipment of a given context, or books about military operations. Even those books about military operations, like this one about a 1980 siege of the Iranian Embassy in London by a revolutionary group supporting increased autonomy for the oil-producing Arab minority region of Iran known as Arabistan, spends a great deal of attention focusing on issues of the armament of the hostage-taking terrorists, the SAS forces who eventually mounted a successful rescue, and even one brave if unlucky policeman who managed to keep a pistol hidden on his body the entire time he was a hostage after having gone inside for a hot cup of coffee at the precise moment that the terrorists took over the Iranian embassy.
In terms of its contents, the book reads like a dramatic diary that was born to be made into a film. The events of the six-day siege are given in descriptive fashion, full of technical expertise and some use of jargon that demonstrates the familiarity of the author with the language of the civil and military bureaucracies that specialize in such matters. Intermixed with the story of the siege, which shows a pretty standard pattern of initial surprise, a great deal of pressure at the start, the gradual development of Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages began to identify with the terrorists, and then a period of increased pressure and strain as the lack of sleep and the atmosphere of threat wore on everyone involved, while rescue operations were simultaneously planned to be put into place if any of the hostages were killed. When one was killed, and confirmed dead, the fate of the terrorists was sealed, with five of the six being killed, one imprisoned, at the cost of a couple of wounded and one killed hostage among those who were left. Then there is the discussion of the aftermath and the debriefing, with various insert chapters throughout showing the political background of the terrorists as well as a very short operational history of the SAS, which gained a great deal of positive publicity as a result of the successful rescue mission.
Although this book is short, and seemingly destined for a treatment as a British historical drama film, there is a lot that can be gleaned from it. One of them is that equipment can have a great deal of influence on how a mission goes. The tangling up of the ropes held up the leader of the rescue mission, leading him to be injured by burns when the top floor windows were blasted open, and problems with the ropes for someone else on the rescue team led to a premature kicking open of windows that alerted the terrorists to the strike. Additionally, the book as a whole reveals the shocking lack of preparedness that the British have when it comes to dealing with violence, something that enemies of Great Britain are likely to exploit from time to time, as was the case here, at least temporarily. The book also demonstrates the essential difficulty of coordinating responses between decision makers who often do not have all the information, multiple layers of civil and military bureaucracy that do not always work in harmony, as well as the media whose inaccurate reports can exacerbate tensions within a hostage situation and also foreign actors who have their own agendas. Additionally, the importance of the clever actions of the hostages themselves can make a big difference in the outcome of a hostage situation, and this particular crisis had quite a lot of quick thinking and tactical brilliance among those held hostage, to the ultimate benefit in preserving their own lives and in helping to avert disaster. In a world full of doubt that individuals can make a difference, this book is a reminder that upon small individual decisions and a great deal of courage, people can make a difference in history, although usually only in the most stressful and unexpected of incidents.
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