The aborted U.S. rescue mission in Iran appears to have galvanized Iranian exile movements in Western Europe into redoubling their efforts to overthrow the Islamic revolutionary government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Far from regarding the rescue attempt as a disaster, exile leaders here see it as having lifted a major weight from their shoulders since they can no longer be reproached by Washington for endangering the hostages' safety and the prospects for a negotiated release.
Intensive efforts are being made here to unify exile groups in France, Britain, West Germany and the United States into a coalition front.
The monarchists, who claim to still command an important following in the armed forces, say they have reached broad agreement to hold an organizing congress in London or Paris within two weeks to form an Iranian national resistance council. Everyone who accepts the principle of the monarchy -- with or without the deposed shah -- will be invited except for Shahpour Bakhtiar, the premier who paved the way for the shah's departure but was forced out of power by Khomeini.
Bakhtiar has refused to have anything to do with any of the groups, even though he said in an interview that the organizers of the council had offered to make him its chief. He dismisses them as corrupt and discredited.
Sifting through exile claims is tricky. Many exiles seem to be intent on discrediting each other. Others seem simply to be using psychological warfare against the Khomeini government.
The royalists claim that a number of internal and external opponents have spontaneously rallied to the principle of the monarchy because revolts by various ethnic minorities against Khomeini's Islamic republic have underlined that Iran was a "federation of peoples" that needed a symbol of national unity.
Princess Azzadeh, niece of the shah and the political leader of a young officers' movement called Free Iran, said that one of the first tasks of the council would be to ask the deposed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to declare whether he intends to abdicate in favor of one of his two sons or to appoint a regency council. This, she implied, would give the monarchists the new image they need to serve as a rallying force.
She and other monarchists claim that a number of republicans, especially from the National Front of the late premier Mohammed Mossadegh, have agreed in the interest of uniting the opposition to leave open to a referendum vote the final form of the country's next government.
People are rallying, she said, because "between Khomeini and the communists, there is nothing but us. The only other solution would be a fascist military dictatorship, and, in the long run, that would lead to communism anyway."
Most conversations with exile figures eventually come around to the shadowy figure of Gen. Gholam Ali Oveissi, the martial law administrator of Tehran under the shah. He was the commander of the forces that on Sept. 8, 1978, opened fire on an antishah demonstration, killing hundreds in what has come to be known as the Black Friday massacre.
"Everything is being woven around Oveissi," said Azzadeh.
Oveissi, who fled to the United States before the shah left Iran and moved to Paris in November 1979, seems to travel a lot between here and Iraq. His friends say that he has also been inside Iran, in rebellious Kurdistan, in recent months.
A recurrent theme among the exiles is that Oveissi is the only officer who frightens Khomeini. They believe that once Oveissi decides to move with the officers and men he has been organizing in camps in Egypt, Iraq and Israel, the Khomeini government will melt away, to be replaced in a mass uprising rather than by a purely military operation.
"A military coup would be disastrous for the future of the monarchic principle," said Azzadeh.
There are suggestions of Israeli involvement with the exiles, although some exile sources say that the Israelis also have acted for the United States to sabotage exile plans that displeased Washington.
A highly knowledgeable French official says that Iraq has been supporting all the opposition forces. Iraqi leader "Saddam Hussein is aiding everyone -- Oveissi, Bakhtiar, the Kurds," said the source, who added that France in turn is backing Iraq "to the hilt" with arms. Iraq's other main arms supplier is the United States via Saudi Arabia, the source said.
Unlike the exiles, this source views the U.S. rescue operation as a "fiasco" that "stopped the counterrevolution."
But exiles as opposed as Bakhtiar and Azzadeh profess to see the U.S. failure as a blessing in disguise if it focuses policy away from the hostages and onto what they see as the more important question of toppling the revolutionary government.
Constitutional monarchist leader Hushang Nahavandi, former rector of the University of Tehran, said in an interview: "The only conceivable solution for the hostage problem is to consider it as part of the Iranian problem. The hostages will remain in Iran as long as that regime remains. It needs the hostages to stay in power. They are its way of blackmailing to survive.
"There is only one solution for the West -- to cease preventing an overthrow by the internal opposition forces who are forming a broad consensus." o
Nahavandi appears to be the political leader closest to Oveissi.
Bakhtiar said in an interview: "There's nothing to do for the hostages for the moment. Action must take other directions. America must know what it really wants. It may have to wait for the overthrow of the regime to settle the hostage issue.
"You lost 70,000 Americans stupidly in Vietnam. Suppose you lost 50 more. I know it's sad, but when the great cause is involved, you've got to place 50 lives in perspective."
Bakhtiar said that until recently, "the Americans were making it known in countries like Turkey, Kuwait and the emirates of the [Persian] Gulf that they should allow nothing that might hurt the Khomeini regime."
He said he had sensed from the United States "a vacuum around my possible action -- the interlocutors that I should normally have been able to expect were absent. Iraq is the only independent country that has understood my position."
U.S. sources say they see Bakhtiar primarily as an opposition symbol rather than as a genuine organizing force. They describe him as being "first among equals" rather than a dominant figure.
The Iraqis, these sources said, seem to be helping anyone they think can make trouble for the Iranian authorities. Iraq seems to be worried about Khomeini's appeals to its large Shiite Moslem population against the ruling Baath party, they said.
The man who was premier during the 39 days that bridged the passage of power from the shah to Khomeini indicated that he had conversations with Iraqi leader Hussein, but he refused for "security" reasons to say how many times he has been to Baghdad recently.
Asked if he is getting financial help from Iraq, Bakhtiar said, "If I asked for it, I'd get it." He said he would take arms and other help from Iraq. "They are asking us for absolutely nothing in return. Khomeini is the aggressor. Iraq is only doing what any country would do to defend itself. It is legitimate defense of the Baath regime against Khomeini's efforts to aggrave the Sunni-Shiite differences in the country."
Bakhtiar's leadership role is widely contested for a number of contradictory reasons. So far he has refused to play along with the renascent monarchist opposition, even though he says he should have no philosophical objections to a Swedish-style constitutional monarchy.
Opposition personalities still in Iran are said to have renounced their leadership claims, but their price is that Bakhtiar not be named chief.
A Bakhtiar intimate said that Oveissi had offered the former premier the political leadership of the opposition movement in exchange for recognition as the uncontested military leader. The source said Bakhtiar had refused and that the break between the two men "is probably final." Bakhtiar will only say that Oveissi came to see him twice.
Bakhtiar also admitted that the organizers of the national resistance council had come to see him. Nahavandi and others in the group say that they had asked Bakhtiar to agree that, even if he will not associate with them at least he will not make difficulties for them. They claim he agreed. His version is that he simply noted that he is in no position to create obstacles for them.
There has been a very strong impression that the monarchists were sparing no efforts to try to recruit Bakhtiar and that, if spurned, they would try to punish him politically. He evidently felt the pressure.
"Let's not mix together the dish rags and guest towels," he said. "Nahavandi is nauseating. There is a diabolical machination to compromise me with those people. I don't pay any attention to them, so why won't they leave me alone? They should have the wisdom to be quiet.Their activities will only incite people to rally around Khomeini."