What has Iran gained by holding the hostages in Tehran for almost one year? Assuming Iran's four-point list is agreed to by the White House and the hostages are released in the days or weeks ahead, the answer is that the fundamentalist revolution headed by Ayatollah Khomeini has gained, but Iran in general has suffered considerable loss.
How the Iranian revolution has benefited:
* Internal power has been consolidated. In October 1979, prior to the seizure of the United States Embassy by militants, Iran was split politically between left- and right-wing factions. Discontent was very high.
The original revolution was a combined effort of left, right, center, and mosque.
But by that October a partisan debate loomed over adoption of an Islamic constitution, with dissent led by the educated middle and upper classes under the banner of secular nationalists, leftists, and moderate prime minister Mehdi Bazargan's government.
The hostage seizure, the subsequent crisis, and the worldwide attention it precipitated effectively moved this debate to the background. The huge daily outpourings of support for the militants at the US Embassy intimidated dissent, and the Islamic republic swept to approval.
The factions that remain in Iran generally consist of hard- and soft-line variants on the Islamic-republic theme. Many communists and socialists have gone underground.
* A measure of revenge against the US has been extracted. Ayatollah Khomeini , his supporters, and many other Iranians have condemned 30 years of US involvement in Iranian affairs, especially for US support of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi's repressive regime. Shiite Iran is a revenge-minded society, which has resorted to retributive acts such as the firing squad and even occasional public stonings.
* The late Shah was cut off from whatever he might have done to regain control of the country when the militants drove a human wedge between him and his Western supporters. The hostages were international insurance. By reacting so dramatically to the admission of the Shah into the US for hospital treatment, the Iranians served warning on other nations not to aid or support the deposed monarch.
At least until most Western reporters and television cameras were expelled last summer the hostage seizure succeeded in riveting world attention on Iran, thereby insuring that Iran's affairs were known to the world. In addition, vast publicity was given to Shiite Islam and to the appearance of a nonaligned Islamic republic in the 20th century. Whether this ultimately helps or hinders Islam and/or the nonaligned nations' movement remains to be seen.