October 28, 2022
by AMCD advisor Dr. Walid Phares
The current Iranian regime faces a significant challenge. The 2022 protests are unceasing.
If anything, they are expanding and, more ominously, they are drawing support from more sectors of society in the West, particularly from Europe and, gradually, even from the United States.
Iran’s regime is now preparing itself for a showdown with leaders in the West who are pressured by their own citizens to take action against Tehran’s rulers.
The ayatollahs have thus decided to reactivate a strategy they effectively employed in the 1980s: seizing hostages to deter Western governments from taking drastic measures against the Iranian regime.
They intend to use the hostages as a shield against foreign solidarity with the protesters.
But what could the Islamic Republic hope to gain by arresting Westerners at a time of massive protests?
By taking hostages from several NATO countries, the regime places those governments in a dilemma. If Western countries don’t act, their political credibility would be harmed at home. If they do act, by doing things such as increasing sanctions or stopping funding to the regime, hostages’ families will put pressure on them to refrain from taking such action.
That is the bet Tehran is making. And it’s a sure one, based on hostage crisis precedents set not only in the 1980s, but in more recent years as well.
But should protests continue increasing in Iran, we may become witnesses to a vicious cycle, one in which the regime is tempted to take more hostages.
This wouldunleash criticism in the West, and that criticism will encourage the protesters to rise against the regime, who will then crack down on the protests and be tempted to take more hostages.
We would would see a spiraling of escalating violence.
Even the lobby for the Iran Deal will at some point need to review their strategies.
Recently, a New Zealand couple, a Spanish trekker, and others, have been arrested in Iran.
If Tehran’s rulers order more arrests and kidnappings of Europeans, or even Westerners at large, including Americans, the EU may consider banning its citizens from traveling to Iran.
Such a ban would encompass business travel, which would narrow investments in the regime’s economy.
While it seems obvious that the EU should ask its citizens to avoid traveling to Iran, there is a problem: European companies and interests, under the Iran Deal, have already established themselves in Iran.
How could Brussels ban them from going there?
This is one of the consequences of the July 14, 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The regime will employ that financial presence in Iran to keep the EU in check, and the European hostages will serve to paralyze their respective countries from acting against Tehran.
The problem with looking to the United States for leadership on this is that the Iran Lobby is so influential in Washington that despite all the breaches of human rights in Iran, the Biden administration has not yet moved to sanction Tehran’s elites, and instead has only issued a few statements.
Negotiating with ayatollahs for the release of these political prisoners one by one would be a mistake. Iranian militias are extremely vulnerable if Washington acts wisely and freely.
Unfortunately, the Obama and Biden administrations have lost significant credibility in U.S. foreign policy since the inception of their Iran policy more than 10 years ago.
It’s time to change direction — again.
The West, led by a stronger and more determined America, should shell-shock the Islamist republic once and for all and have the liberation of every single hostage at the top of the list of demands.
But the White House has to free itself from the lobby before they can be of any help to American and European hostages, let alone support protesters.
These are very challenging days, especially as 2022 midterm elections are approaching and the Republican opposition has been accusing the administration of giving a pass to the regime.
Only a major change in U.S. foreign policy can bring hope to the families of the hostages in Iran and hope to the Iranian people.
First published in Newsmax.