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Iran prisoner’s dilemma: Regime ransom or humanitarian aid?

Will the Iranian people ever see any of this money? Can opposition protests continue? “Our Middle East” with Dan Diker and guest Michael Segall, Ep. 22

On this episode of “Our Middle East,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president Dan Diker speaks with JCPA Iran Intelligence expert Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall about the Biden administration’s prisoner-exchange deal with the Iranian regime. Segall served in the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Directorate as head of the international and Iranian desks.

The prisoner deal stipulates the release of five American citizens long-held in Iran in exchange for the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian oil revenues held in South Korea, as well as the release of several Iranian prisoners held in American jails for violating sanctions.

The money is to be disbursed through a Qatari fund for humanitarian aid. Although the Biden administration says it doesn’t plan to lift sanctions on Iran, the agreement may be tied to clandestine efforts to resume talks.

“Unfortunately, the Iranian people will not see any of this money,” Segall says of the so-called humanitarian earmark. Though the general population suffers from sanctions and a severe drought, the “new strata” of elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps families live well, profiting from the sanctions by smuggling goods, he says.

Segall adds that the Iranians have held Western hostages for prisoner exchanges for decades, as in the 1990s when they held Western diplomats in Lebanon.

Conflicting messages

Diker notes the irony of the regime’s ongoing use of morality police, in addition to its widespread use of corporal punishment and even rape in Iranian jails. At the same time, it negotiates with the politically progressive American administration that seems unperturbed by the regime’s massive human-rights violations. Meanwhile, says Diker, the ultra-progressive and repressive “Iranian regime is laughing all the way to the bank.”

Segall agrees. “Iranians are seeing conflicting messages on behalf of the United States,” he says, noting last week’s “buildup of American forces in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. … But on the other hand … , the negotiations of the JCPOA [the 2015 Iran nuclear deal] and the Iranian assets being unfrozen. … The Iranian regime has a very clear path. …They are not changing the strategy.”

Will the protests continue? 

Segall says “gaps between the waves of protest” in Iran are narrowing, though opposition to the regime is divided ideologically and methodologically. “They don’t have any a trigger event or a trigger leader that could take these components and put them together.”

He adds that “the Iranian regime is, unfortunately, exploiting the divisions” by assassinating successful opposition leaders while it uses social networks and technology to launch a soft war against them.

“Eventually, the revolution from Iran will not come from outside,” says Segall. “It must be—it should be—a very genuine revolution that comes from within the Iranian people.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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