Experts probe aloud the gaps in official 'rescue' story

Reading between the lines of official explanations of the ill-fated hostage rescue mission, independent foreign policy experts are grappling with two key unanswered questions:

* Was the main law in the mission, and the primary reason for calling it off, the malfunction of three helicopters, as the administration says it was?

* What does the existence of support for the mission within Iran itself indicate about the changing political dynamics within that country and the US relation to it?

Defense Secretary Harold Brown reported to the nation that the primary reason for calling off the mission was indeed the malfunction of three of the eight helicopters. "The operation plan," he said, "provided for termination of the mission if there were less than six helicopters operational at this point" of the mission.

But this explanation raised more questions than it answered for foreign affairs analysts who met here last weekend at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Noting that the mission had succeeded in achieving tactical surprise when it was aborted, Dr. Jeffrey Record of the Institute for Foreign Policy in Washington said, "This suggests that the real problem was a failure to build sufficient backup force into the operation, or that if there were enough backup, there may have been a loss of nerve at the White House, or something else we don't know about."

Analysts here are also baffled at why, if at least six helicopters were in fact a precondition for carrying through the mission, planners did not provide more than two backups? Even harder to understand, according to Dr. Record, is that the helicopters used were RH-53's, an aircraft that has a history of mechanical failures in the past. This would make more backups seem an obvious necessity.

Analysts at Fletcher generally agreed that there had to have been strong support for the rescue mission from within Iran itself.

Barring that support, the mission would have been very difficult to complete since the location of the embassy where the American hostages were held does not have easy access, says Professor Robert L. Pfaltzgraff of the Fletcher School.

According to Professor Ra'anan, support may have come from elements within elite units of the Iranian armed forces, known to be extremely unhappy with Khomeini policies. Support could also have come from within disaffected ethnic minorities like the Kurds.

Analysts wonder if the US will be forced to change its traditional recognition of the Khomeini government as the sole ruler over the land it now governs. Observers like Mr. Ra'anan believe the circumstances may force the US to develop ties with ethnic minorities that oppose the Khomeini government.

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