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The West Must Isolate Iran

Iran
Iran's missiles. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Iranian security forces reportedly arrested Giles Whitaker and a number of other diplomats and foreigners on espionage charges. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said the group violated a prohibited zone close to an area where the Iranian military was testing missiles. The IRGC evidently missed the irony of justifying their arrest in Whitaker’s alleged collection of soil samples. Thirty-three years ago, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein arrested (and subsequently executed) British-Iranian journalist Farzad Bazoft on similar charges. That incident led to the West’s abandonment of the fiction that Saddam was somehow moderate.

Iran’s arrest of diplomats was predictable. For more than forty years, Iranian authorities have flouted treaties governing protection of diplomats and diplomatic property. The United States cannot dismiss the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy as the action of a radical fringe. Masoumeh Ebtekar, spokeswoman of the hostage-takers served as vice president of Iran under both Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani, both of whom many Western diplomats considered moderates. Far from apologizing for the embassy seizure, she has continued to justify it.

Simply put, the Islamic Republic glorifies hostage-taking and continues the practice because it works. For Tehran, hostage-taking is a profitable exercise. The Obama administration paid over $400 million in cash—by some accounts more than $1 billion—to win the release of Americans imprisoned in the country. President Obama denied that money was a ransom. “We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here. And we don’t—we won’t in the future—precisely because if we did, then we would start encouraging Americans to be targeted,” he said. The was spin. The IRGC understood the cash was ransom. “Taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies,” Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, commander of the paramilitary Basij, said, a claim the Iranian press repeated over subsequent weeks.

Nor was Obama the only one to pay cash for hostages. President Jimmy Carter caved to Iranian extortion with the 1981 Algiers Accords. During Ronald Reagan’s campaign, his team criticized Carter for negotiating under fire, but then did the exact same thing. Beginning in the middle of the 1980s, Iranian proxies in Lebanon began kidnapping Americans. The root of President Ronald Reagan’s arms-for-hostages scheme was an attempt to ransom these citizens. On January 17, 1986, Reagan signed an order authorizing the sale of missiles to Iran. Under terms negotiated by senior national security aides, Tehran would order Hezbollah and other proxy groups to release American hostages as soon as Iranian authorities received the weapons. At first it seemed to work. Iran let many Americans go—at least those whom Hezbollah had not tortured to death—but as soon as intermediaries delivered the last batch of missiles, Hezbollah simply took more Americans hostage.

For Iranian leaders today, the only difference between diplomats and academics or journalists is that diplomats bring a higher price. And the only difference between hardliners and so-called reformers is that the former seize the hostage while the latter act as their agents to negotiate a good price to sustain the regime.

While Reagan helped affirm Iran’s calculation that hostage-taking works, his tenure also provides insight into alternate responses. While Carter aides argued persistence of diplomacy convinced Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini to release the hostages, in 1981, former Kissinger aide Peter Rodman observed in the Washington Quarterly that this was backwards. What actually changed  Khomeini’s calculus was the isolation the Islamic Republic suffered in the wake of the hostage seizure. With time, that isolation became too great to bear.

It is time to replicate that isolation. All Western embassies in Tehran should close. At best, they have become hostages-in-waiting. The United States and Europe can provide visa services from Dubai. Likewise, all European countries should send Iranian diplomats home. Maximum pressure should resume. Until Iranian authorities learn that the cost for hostage-taking is impoverishment and isolation, then they will simply continue a strategy that has proven lucrative and diplomatically rewarding.

Expert Biography – Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Ghost Tomahawk

    July 6, 2022 at 6:09 pm

    Really? This administration is about as likely to pressure Iran as they are to restarting the Keystone XL pipeline.

    • Eric-ji

      July 6, 2022 at 8:02 pm

      They probably were spies. Why else go to Iran?

    • Olga

      July 7, 2022 at 4:17 am

      Venezuela minister sides with Terrorist Sponsors Russia the Terrorist State run by totalitarianism Despot Puking Putin , I think all these nations controlled by despot regimes are all tarred with same brush the Evil brush all they want to do is control censor make life as difficult as possible for their populations and steal kill and murder any one who thinks differently to them. Putin kills without a care murders any one so does Ji Ping they are all evil and if a bomb was invented to some how to take out all the evil just targeting some how the likes of Putin Jinping and all tantamount accomplices to murdersignals atrocities and genocide were targeted in all these vulgar barbarian States and it could kill the lot of them through out the world all the evil regimes taken out what a present to mankind that would surely be.

  2. Steven

    July 6, 2022 at 9:01 pm

    Nuke’em till they glow then use their a$$e$ for landing lights.

  3. Charles

    July 6, 2022 at 10:21 pm

    “The Obama administration paid over $400 million in cash” My understanding is that this wasn’t American money, but was Iranian money that had been frozen by the US government.

  4. pagar

    July 7, 2022 at 3:20 am

    The free world must isolate the west !

    The devious US & UK in 1953 staged a bloody and illegal coup in Iran, and has repeated such heinous acts around the globe ever since.

    Today, Biden is hell-bent on starting ww3, aiming to destroy Russia, unaware or unable to figure Russia has the ability to vaporize US cities.

    Biden the Hitler of 21st century who’ll outdo the Hitler of the 20th century.

    Biden is aiming to let US morph into the dreaded Babylon or the high priestess of immorality and corruption.

    Biden figures it is his last big gainful throw of the dice to gain everlasting fame.He thinks the world will thus always worship him as the man who took down Russia.

    Instead, Biden is destined to go STRAIGHT to hell, for eternity.

  5. jojjo

    July 7, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    ohhh… so it is Iran that is the real enemy.. ohhh.. that is who is flooding our borders with people who want to kill us with fentanyl… ohhh. thanks for letting us know that.

  6. Goodman

    July 11, 2022 at 4:34 am

    Iran iran iran all the time as if iran did 9/11!!!

    Be honest the enemy is sunni wahabi regimes like Saudi Arabia. Saudis did 9/11 not Iran!!!

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