Since the nuclear deal, the number of Westerners imprisoned in Iran has increased. Even the US State Department has acknowledged the increasing threat against Americans since the deal was reached, saying in a March travel warning: “Iran has continued to harass, arrest, and detain US citizens, in particular dual nationals.”
It is very important to understand the intersection of Tehran’s hostage-taking, foreign policy and revolutionary ideals. Its hostage-taking policy goes back to 1979, when the theocratic regime was established. It began with the US Embassy takeover in Tehran, which led to 52 Americans being held hostage for 444 days, until the regime achieved its political and ideological objectives.
This pattern has continued for almost four decades. Iran’s hostage-taking is systematic, and a core pillar of its rogue foreign policy. It is used to strengthen the mullahs’ hold on power and ensure the regime’s survival. More fundamentally, Tehran holds foreign hostages as pawns to extract economic concessions and obtain geopolitical and financial gains. It often uses these innocent hostages to swap prisoners.
Tehran has learned that holding foreigners hostage can bring in billions of dollars and increase its political leverage against the West. Countries should not submit to Iran’s economic and political demands, because it will encourage and reinforce its behavior.
Tehran has been boasting about hostage-taking, and has been publicly asking for more money to release them. Regarding recently arrested Americans, it said it is seeking “many billions of dollars” for their release. Tehran also uses hostages as a tool to pressure the West to ignore its military adventurism, violations of international law and testing of ballistic missiles.
For Tehran, holding hostages is a political and ideological exercise, and a form of leverage against other countries.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Iran’s hardliners are sending a message to the Iranian people that improved economic ties with the West do not mean political and social liberalization. Tehran is also signaling to the West and to young Iranians that the nuclear deal does not mean it will welcome Westerners, alter its foreign policy or respect human rights. For Tehran, holding hostages is a political and ideological exercise, and a form of leverage against other countries.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh