September 26, 2023

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Recall your spies back home

TEHRAN – On August 22, the Atlantic Council published an article titled “Iran has a hostage-taking model. It’s long overdue that the US build a policy around it.” The article, written by Jason Brodsky, claimed Iran uses a “hostage model” to further its interests.

At the beginning of the article, Brodsky expresses concerns about the lack of a multi-pronged strategy to prevent “hostage-taking” by Iran. Then the writer suggests strategies to prevent what he calls the so-called process.

Brodsky, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute’s Iran Program, claimed that since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Iran has been involved in “hostage-taking diplomacy”, and after the occupation of the American embassy in Iran, the so-called model has become a policy. He further cited the Algiers Accord of 1981, the unfreezing of $1.7 billion in 2016 during Barack Obama’s presidency, and the release of some funds in 2022 by the United Kingdom in exchange for the discharge of Nazanin Zaghari, and lists all of these as examples of Iran’s hostage diplomacy. 

Brodsky has shared his perspective on the matter, but it’s important to explore other viewpoints for a complete understanding. To address Brodsky’s article thoroughly, let’s take a look at a few decades before the Islamic revolution in 1979 and continue until 2023. This will provide a more comprehensive answer. 

After the end of the Second World War in 1945, the winners set the foundations of the world order. After a while, the bipolar world emerged and the Cold War began, with the Soviet Union and the United States facing each other. Throughout the Cold War, these two countries were not harmed, but as a result of their competition, many Third World countries fell victim. While international relations experts at that time declared this situation simply as “the spillover of the rivalry of two superpowers to the Third World”, the people of these countries were subjected to economic sanctions or imposed wars. 

Iran was never spared from the interference of superpowers. The first serious intervention of the United States in Iran was the 1953 coup, known as the 28 Mordad coup, where the UK instigated the coup to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, and the memory of this coup will never be erased from the minds of the Iranian people.

With the Islamic Revolution’s victory in 1979, the United States’ interventions and efforts to plan another coup continued, and this time, people’s anger resulted in the occupation of the American embassy in Tehran. After the occupation of the embassy, the hostility of the U.S. toward Iran entered a new phase and did not decrease despite the passage of 44 years. The blocking of the Iranian properties and the imposition of sanctions continued unabated. Unlike what has been claimed about the imposition of sanctions, it was not a wise move. It was aimed to irritate Iranian people and target their basic needs.

For years, the United States has seized Iranian property through theft diplomacy, and they continue to do so with various excuses. A recent example is the attempt by American officials to sell the stolen Iranian oil. The best course of action for Iran to regain access to its property is to use the tools it has at its disposal. The presence of Western spies in Iran creates an opportunity for Iran to do so. 

Brodsky thinks that the prisoners are innocent and have been unfairly taken as “hostages.” He may have agreed with his government’s claim that they are not spies, but we do not trust their word. Over the years, we have witnessed the presence of Western spy groups in Iran, El Salvador, Vietnam, Nicaragua, and other places of unrest. 

Of course, Brodsky should not be upset about the release of Iranian assets in exchange for the release of Western spies, because the U.S. is actually signaling to its spies that they have to continue vigorously with their efforts to carry on their mission! If they get stuck, U.S. officials are here to negotiate their freedom! 

In the rest of the article, the author seeks to propose a broad deterrence strategy to prevent the implementation of what he calls “Iran’s hostage policy model”. Brodsky believes that the “D” travel risk is not enough and more restrictions should be applied. He believes as far as a travel ban to Iran is in place for all U.S. passport holders, the U.S. should work with its European allies to implement similar restrictions. Second, he adds, the United States should work with its allies to jointly develop a set of sanctions that will be automatically triggered once the Islamic Republic takes hostage. These penalties should include economic and diplomatic penalties. 

In fact, in this part of the article, Brodsky is proposing a protection strategy for Western spies in Iran to return home safe and sound after completing their mission. His emphasis on diplomatic punishment is remarkable. Brodsky wrote that there are more than ninety embassies in Iran and more than ninety Iranian embassies around the world. He proposes a number of Iranian diplomats should be declared “personae non grata”, ambassadors to Iran should be recalled “en masse,” and the travel of former and current Iranian officials to foreign countries should be severely limited.

If we focus on the author’s emphasis on diplomatic punishments in light of the recent report by the Tehran Times regarding efforts to replace Iranian diplomats with new individuals, we will understand that there is a new plan that goes beyond the mere discussion about the release of a few spies. In fact, the recent diplomatic moves of Iran on an international scale have increased a desire by the West to limit Iran’s diplomatic activities. If this issue is considered within the framework of a step toward a multipolar world order with the centrality of economically emerging countries such as China, the efforts of Iran to play a role in this campaign will be of double importance. 

Brodsky suggests that officials involved in hostage-taking should face pre-determined sanctions on the economic scale. Additionally, he says since airline companies were involved in the transfer of Tehran’s drones to Russia, the U.S. government could launch a campaign to attract other countries to impose sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which he claims is one of Iran’s main tools for its hostage-taking system. 

If the United States wants to implement the author’s suggestion and design a new sanctions package to protect its spies, it will have a difficult road ahead. After imposing this large volume of sanctions, it will be very difficult for Washington to find new loopholes to slap sanctions.

Iran has two suggestions for the United States to solve the problem of the imprisonment of its spies: first, stop stealing Iran’s property and return the country’s assets; and second, recall their spies back home. 

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