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Deadly consequences of indulging Iran’s hostage diplomacy

Baria Alamuddin

The Islamic Republic of Iran was born out of hostage taking, and it continues to reap billions of dollars by abducting foreign nationals and assets, while holding entire nations to ransom.

Lebanon is one such hostage state. Iran and Hezbollah are actively blocking any kind of political formula for saving Lebanon from catastrophe, until the Biden administration caves into Tehran’s nuclear demands. Hezbollah and its allies are deliberately obstructing Saad Hariri’s Cabinet-forming efforts with impossible demands (“blocking thirds,” additional ministers, monopolies over specific departments, and so on). Meanwhile the economy disintegrates, sectarian tensions boil, and even middle-class families are on the brink of starvation.

Hezbollah also holds Lebanese citizens hostage by leaving the nation perpetually hanging on the brink of war with Israel. While Hezbollah’s leaders hide deep underground, or in Tehran, citizens become huma -shields, with weapons factories, missile positions and ammunition stores placed in densely populated regions. Almost every day I speak to Lebanese terrified that their home next to the airport or other strategic locations will be hit when conflict erupts.

Israel uses the same murderous logic of holding Lebanese citizens hostage. Defense Minister Benny Gantz threatened that if fighting starts “Lebanon will be the one to pay the heaviest of prices for the weapons that have been scattered in civilian population centers.”

By keeping Yemen, Syria and Iraq in a state of constant turmoil, these nations are also hostages to Tehran’s foreign policy of ceaseless confrontation. Iranian proxy missile attacks against American bases are a blunt threat that if the US refuses to compromise, Iraq will erupt in flames. Biden’s retaliatory strikes against militia bases in remote Syria border regions thus smartly sidestepped Tehran’s desire to see civilians killed in the crossfire.

The ayatollahs discover over and over again that crime pays — billions of dollars at a time. Eye-watering ransoms can be comparable to the annual sum with which Iran subsidizes Hezbollah, estimated at $700 million. For example:

Tehran is demanding over $500 million owed by Britain from a Shah-era arms deal in exchange for the release of British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Barack Obama in 2015 dispatched $400 million in cash to Tehran, coinciding with the release of five US hostages.

The Islamic Republic of Iran was born out of hostage taking, and it continues to reap billions of dollars by abducting foreign nationals and assets, while holding entire nations to ransom.

Baria Alamuddin

An estimated $500 million ransom was paid for Qatari royals kidnapped by an Iranian proxy in Iraq. Quds Force’s Qassim Soleimani was personally allocated $50 million.

Seoul is due to release $1 billion, part of $7 billion in funds frozen by US sanctions, as an “initial step” in releasing a South Korean oil tanker hijacked by Iran.

The world first witnessed what sort of beast Iran is when the US Embassy in Tehran was overrun in 1979. Fifty diplomatic staff were held hostage until the Regan administration brokered a deal by persuading Israel to export billions of dollars’ worth of arms to Tehran’s militantly anti-Israel ayatollahs. Throughout the 1980s, dozens of Westerners were taken hostage by Hezbollah and exploited for Iran’s political gain.

No other state uses hostage-taking as systematically as Iran. Innocent individuals are detained on falsified espionage charges meriting life imprisonment or execution. Coerced confessions are extracted by torture, solitary confinement, or threats to family members.

Iranian-Swedish researcher Ahmadreza Djalali has been sentenced to death, apparently in retaliation for assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, presumably by Israel.  Arab-Iranian activist Habib Chaab was lured from his home in Sweden to Istanbul, where he was abducted, and now faces a death sentence in Iran.

Detained academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert in 2020 was exchanged for three Iranian terrorists jailed in Thailand for their part in a botched bombing campaign. Iran would usually leave its own citizens to rot, but when Republican Guard terrorists are at stake the ayatollahs are happy to negotiate.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif freely acknowledges such “hostage diplomacy,” saying that if Iranian prisoners are released abroad “Iran is ready to reciprocate.”

The civilized world appears incapable of responding, other than a recent Canadian initiative against “coercive diplomacy,” and France, Germany and Britain summoning Iran’s ambassadors in protest. Such feeble measures only encourage the morally bankrupt ayatollahs to demand bigger ransoms.

Biden’s national security adviser says they “have begun to communicate with the Iranians” over US hostages, and the issue is a “significant priority.” But how can Britain and America be negotiating on a level playing field over the nuclear issue while Iran is holding their citizens ransom? America insists on keeping such issues separate, but Iran views its nuclear program, hostages, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen as additional negotiating cards.

Most developed nations refuse to do deals with kidnappers, but when the abductor is a state, billions of dollars are handed over — only for Iran to kidnap new victims, and the farcical process starts over again.

When innocent mothers face psychological torture in solitary confinement, states such as Britain and Sweden, which value their citizens, feel under immense moral pressure to cut deals. However, these billion-dollar sums (direct ransoms or unfrozen funds) are immediately funneled back to terrorist and paramilitary groups with the blood of thousands of innocent people on their hands.

States that routinely employ hostage taking as a diplomatic tool should be treated not as states, but as criminal gangs. They should be thrown out of every international body including the UN, and not given the privilege of direct negotiations with the US and other civilized nations until they permanently modify their behavior.

By doing deals with terrorist states we perpetuate murder and terrorism. Hezbollah prospers and holds the Lebanese nation at gunpoint based on the bountiful profits of Iran’s “hostage diplomacy,” along with revenues from narcotics, weapons and people smuggling.

Such systematic criminality is fundamentally woven into the Islamic Republic’s DNA, and until we deal with Tehran according to this premise, we only perpetuate this cycle of new generations of innocent victims held to ransom.

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