January 21, 2016

Iran frees five detained Americans - the good, the bad and the ugly

Three of five Americans released: Amir Hekmati - Jason Rezaian - Saeed Abedini

Now that the initial euphoria of the release of five Americans from Iran is beginning to fade, the magnitude of just what the United States had to give the Iranians to secure their return is beginning to sink in.

For the five American families, who are justifiably rejoicing as their loved ones return home, no price was too high. For the country, however, it may be a different story.

The good
Obviously, everyone is happy that the five have been released. Everyone believes that they were detained as political pawns by the Iranian regime, regardless of the drivel put out by the Islamic Republic's tightly-controlled press.

This image shows how the four released Americans are being portrayed in Iranian social media. Note the description of the four as spies.

The Iranians contend that only four prisoners were part of the trade; the fifth, a student, was released as "act of goodwill." Of course, there was no reason to detain the student in the first place - he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. (See my comments below for some thoughts on this.)

That's the good; the only good - we got back five Americans who were in reality hostages.

The bad
In order to secure the release of these unjustly detained and imprisoned Americans, the Obama Administration agreed to release seven men who had either been indicted or convicted of actual crimes in actual courts of law - yes, unlike in Iran, due process in a legitimate criminal justice system.

These seven men were accused and/or convicted of crimes against the United States, primarily violations of the sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran for its refusal to adhere to international agreements. All seven were working in support of Iran's illicit nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Of the seven, six hold American citizenship in addition to being Iranian citizens; the seventh is an Iranian national.

Not only did the Administration pardon seven indicted or convicted felons and agreed to deliver them to an airfield in Switzerland to exchange them for the four (which turned out to be five) Americans, but the US government dismissed charges against 14 other Iranians resident in Iran who were under indictment in the United States. Most of those were accused of sanctions violations, although there are unconfirmed reports that some of them were involved in terrorist activities.

Additionally, the Administration agreed to release $400 million of Iranian funds frozen in the United States since 1981. However, with accrued interest - you can't make this up - it totals $1.3 billion.

Who is making these deals? None other than Secretary of State John Kerry, the same John Kerry that caved to virtually every Iranian demand that resulted in the unverifiable nuclear deal with Tehran.

The ugly
Six of the seven felons pardoned by the Administration are American citizens and thus can remain in the United States to resume their efforts on behalf of the Islamic Republic - including procurement of materials and technology for the illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

It appears that this eventuality is closer to reality than originally thought. The agreement called for an exchange of prisoners/hostages in Switzerland, but none of the seven pardoned felons chose to board the flight for eventual repatriation to Iran. I know, it is hard to believe that none of them wanted to return to the paradise that is the Islamic Republic....

Yes, I said nuclear - if anyone believes that the Iranians are not covertly seeking a nuclear weapons capability, either alone or in concert with other pariah nations (North Korea comes to mind), they are deluding themselves. It is a capability the Iranians believe will give them strategic parity with Israel and its nuclear arsenal.

Although the Iranians and the Americans insist that the negotiations for the nuclear deal and the prisoner exchange were independent but parallel, no one believes there is no linkage between the two. The freed Americans were not permitted to leave Iran until the International Atomic Energy Agency certified Iran as being in compliance with the nuclear agreement.

One thing that this deal has not resolved is the status of former FBI agent Bob Levinson, missing since he went to Kish Island in 2007. The circumstances of his disappearance have yet to be determined, but I find it hard to believe that the Iranians are not aware of what happened to a former FBI agent visiting Iran.

In addition to the $1.3 billion gained from the prisoner exchange, Iran stands to reap a windfall of over $100 billion once the country is certified as in compliance with the nuclear agreement. Given the virtual capitulation of Secretary Kerry, the certification was a foregone conclusion whether or not Iran actually lived up to its commitments.

Bottom line
Let's compare how this worked out. The United States pardoned seven of Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile materiel and technology procurement agents in American custody. The Americans also paid Iran $1.3 billion in cash. All seven Iranian agents chose to remain in the United States, possibly to resume their efforts on behalf of the Islamic Republic.

Further, the United States dismissed felony charges against another 14 Iranians resident in Iran, thus vacating the Interpol red notices (basically an international arrest warrant) preventing their international travel - they are now free to resume their nefarious activities on behalf of the Iranian regime.

On top of that, being in compliance with the ill-advised nuclear deal, European Union sanctions have been lifted, over $100 billion dollars will find their way to Tehran, and Iranian oil will again be on international markets, complicating a market currently experiencing an oil glut.

For all of that, Iran released five virtual hostages whose only crimes appears to be being Americans present in Iran.

It seems to me that the Iranians got the better of both deals with the United States.

Why any American, even an Iranian-American, would go to Iran under the regime of the ayatollahs is beyond me. I have received several invitations from Iranian media outlets to visit the country - it usually coincides with the annual reporting on Iraq's chemical weapons usage in 1988 while I was in Baghdad.

Given my declared (and now public knowledge) background as an intelligence officer, and revelations - thank you New York Times - of my role in the US provision of intelligence information to the Iraqi military intelligence service in the last year of the Iran-Iraq War, I might be a candidate for a stay at Evin prison.

When I heard that the fifth American to be released as a so-called gesture of good will was a young student, my first thought was, what possessed an American with what appears to be international and regional experience to visit a Shi'a theocracy - sorry, an Islamic Republic? Sometimes you cannot protect people from their own stupidity.

If any more Americans travel to Iran under this current regime, they should be on notice that they are on their own - we will no longer make these lopsided deals to save them from their preventable misfortune.