Ever since Nov. 4, 1979, when Iran took 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage, regime in Tehran has used hostage-taking as a means of extracting huge sums of money and political capital from the United States.
President Jimmy Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan because of the hostage crisis, and due to Carter’s failed attempt to free the captives—an attempt that cost the lives of eight servicemen were killed.It wasn’t coincidental that the hostages were released on the day that Reagan was inaugurated.
Israel’s daring capture of an Iranian general who worked closely with master terrorist General Qassem Soleimani in order to obtain information on Lt. Col. Ron Arad, missing in action and possibly held captive by Iran since 1986, raised the issue once again of Tehran’s use of captives to extract a heavy price.
Despite the Obama administration’s having agreed in 2015 to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)–one of the worst deals that the United States has ever made with a foreign power—not a single American citizen has been released. This elicited a major outcry in the U.S.
As a result of heavy criticism, Obama agreed to send $1.7 billion in cash to Iran for the release of four Americans (It was supposed to be five, but Iran hoodwinked America again) in January of 2016. The Obama administration said there was no quid pro quo, but it wasn’t a coincidence that the day the four American hostages were released, a jumbo jet landed in Tehran carrying 400 million in dollars, euros and francs.
Soon after that, another $1.3 billion in cash was sent to Iran. The latter was supposedly interest on $400 million that the Shah of Iran had sent to acquire American weapons prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. This was on top of the $150 billion freed up from frozen bank assets after sanctions were lifted in 2015 as part of the JCPOA. Additionally, the $400 million sent to Iran to free four American hostages was money allocated for paying victims of Iran-backed terrorism, including Stephen Flatow’s daughter, Alisa, in 1995.
The Iranians had absolutely no right to this money; it was pure extortion. Even The Washington Post, in March 2018, ran a piece headlined: “Was Obama’s 1.7 Billion Cash Deal with Iran Prohibited by US Law?”
Congressman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who at the time chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee, condemned the deal saying, “Sending the world’s leading state sponsor of terror pallets of untraceable cash isn’t just terrible policy. It’s incredibly reckless, and it only puts bigger targets on the backs of Americans.”
Even a former senior intelligence official in the Obama administration said that much of the $1.7 billion in cash was used explicitly to fund terrorism as an additional “screw you” from the leaders of Iran, including Soleimani, who ran Iran’s terror operations.
Despite the exorbitant “ransom” that the Obama administration paid Iran, the main hostage, Robert Levinson, was not released.
Levinson was a former FBI official who was taken hostage in Iran in 2007. He is believed to have died in March 2020 in an Iranian prison. His daughter was quoted as saying, “We were never given the chance to say goodbye. To touch him one more time and tell him we love him. To bury him and properly grieve—to have real closure and finality. After all the Iranians did to us and to him, they owe that to us.”
In addition to Levinson, the Iranians have held American citizens father and son Baquer (aged 84, in need of immediate medical care) and Siamak Namazi (aged 50, held since 2015).
Two other Americans, Emad Shargi (56-year-old businessman) and Morad Tahbaz (co-founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, held since 2018), have been jailed. The daughters of Emad Shargi insist that their father was taken hostage to gain leverage over the Biden administration.
Iran has used hostage-taking as a means of extorting the United States. It is clear that Iran will be asking a very high price for the release of its American citizens held in its jails on trumped-up charges.
America must stay strong. President Reagan showed the way. “Peace through Strength” was his motto. As I mentioned above, it was not a coincidence that Iran released the 52 American hostages on the day that he was inaugurated. This is the America I remember. We should all take note.
Dr. Joseph Frager is first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.