The raid on the Iranian embassy in 1980 was a triumph for Margaret Thatcher and hugely significant for her career and political status. Here, Peter Winner, one of the leaders of the raid, talks about the SAS’s relationship with Thatcher and what she meant to the regiment.
For a full account of the raid, read Prospect’s interview with Winner and Bob Podesta, another member of the team that broke the siege.
I was very saddened by the passing of Lady Thatcher. She showed real courage when faced with the challenge of the Iranian embassy siege and the Falklands War. If either of these missions had failed, there can be no doubt Mrs Thatcher would have been overthrown even faster by her colleagues than she was to be in 1990.
At the Iranian siege she made her mark immediately. At 1500 hrs on day one, during the first emergency meeting of Cobra, she issued the following statement:
“1. No terrorist will leave the UK under any circumstances
2. No hostage will leave the UK under pressure”
Living up to her nickname “the Iron Lady,” she made sure the statement became official UK government policy—a policy of no surrender.
I think this highlighted the courage and resolve of Mrs Thatcher, and of course after the Falklands she felt nothing would ever be so difficult and dangerous again.
Another of her achievements was to bring the SAS out of the shadows. At the siege we had smoke generators ready to be initiated as the assault went in. They would have put a smokescreen down and blocked the view of the world’s media. Word came down from Mrs Thatcher via Cobra: ‘‘don’t initiate the smoke generators.” She wanted the whole assault on the TV screens to send a message to the world’s terrorists.
She definitely got the farewell she deserved. This was the day when the SAS and all British forces gave her in death the honour she so richly earned in life.
Pete Winner is the author of “Soldier ‘I’: The Story of an SAS Hero” (Osprey) with a foreword by Andy McNab