Abduction: The Mullah's Strategic Weapon

Iran takes hostages because stealing people has proven to be a politically powerful weapon.  Expect the mullahs to take more hostages as tensions between our countries grow.

Tehran has enjoyed considerable success abducting Westerners because it gets what it wants and seldom pays a penalty.  Iran has seized hostages in order to obtain arms and the release of prisoners.  It also kidnaps for political manipulation or to divert attention from pressing matters like nuclear weapons development.

Recently, Tehran abducted — i.e., imprisoned on trumped-up charges — four American-Iranian citizens with no connection to the US government.  The four Americans were abducted while visiting Iran and now face espionage charges that could earn them death by hanging. 

On July 16, two of the hostages were paraded on state-run television to show doctored interviews designed to make the most ordinary statements appear to be part of a great conspiracy. The hostages have not been formerly charged, permitted to speak with counsel or seen by the Red Cross.

Iran’s press has linked this case to the five Quds (Jerusalem) Force members, Revolutionary Guards special forces, who were arrested by American forces inside Iraq and accused of arming and training Iraqi militants.  There is speculation about a possible exchange deal.

The most notorious Iranian abduction was the takeover of the US embassy on November 4, 1979.  Student leaders, which may have included the current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seized 66 US personnel by scaling the embassy walls.  They held 52 of those Americans for 444 days until moments after President Ronald Reagan was sworn into office, an obvious swipe at outgoing President Jimmy Carter. 

The students reportedly were angry at Carter for allowing the deposed shah to enter the US for medical treatment. The shah was hated but the students’ real motivation was intimidation.  Gholam-Hossein Haddad-Adel, Iran’s current parliament speaker, said the embassy takeover was the beginning of the end of the “false strength of America.” 

Once the Americans were released Iran learned an important lesson. Western media left and their grievances were forgotten.  That lesson prompted the mullahs to create Hezbollah, a Shiite terror group, to snatch and bomb Iran’s way back into the limelight. 

Terrorists crave an audience and abducting foreigners provides the ideal crisis to advance political grievances.  Unlike bombings which lack media staying power, abduction draws and sustains media attention especially for the 24-hour satellite channels and the internet.  It provides the perfect story for the journalist who can personalize the drama and create suspense which keeps viewers hooked. 

The 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847 was an ideal abduction story for Iran’s proxy Hezbollah because it lasted 17 days and provided plenty of drama such as the murder of an American sailor.  The outcome was a win for Iran because the hijackers got away, the West was intimidated and Israel released 735 Shiite militants. 

The Iran-Contra affair was a political nightmare for the Reagan administration but an abduction windfall for Iran.  In August 1985, Washington struck a secret deal with Iran to trade 508 anti-tank missiles for money and the freedom of Hezbollah hostages Benjamin Weir, Martin Jenco and David Jacobson.  The missile money was funneled to the U.S.-backed Contras fighting to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and Iran used the missiles to fight Iraq.

Iran uses abduction to test Western will.  In March, Iran abducted 15 British marines and sailors.  Likely, Iran was testing the Brits’ political willingness to use force and hoped the abductions would sour support back home for the Iraq war.  Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair took a low key diplomatic approach — a reported letter of apology to Iran — rather than accept the US offer for military action.  The message is clear: the Brits will not hold Iran accountable. 

Less well known is the January attack on a provincial government complex in Karbala, Iraq, during which gunmen wearing US uniforms, driving sport-utility vehicles and speaking English killed an American soldier and abducted four others who were eventually murdered before the agents fled toward Iran.  The inside job was labeled the "boldest and most sophisticated attack in four years of warfare” and Iraq’s prime minister confirmed that the raid may have been perpetrated by Iran’s Quds force in response to the arrest of five Quds operatives a  week earlier. 

The Quds force exports Iran’s Islamic revolution to establish a Shiite crescent across the Mideast.  It was set up in 1982 as a separate command linked to Iran’s ayatollahs and is entrusted with the regime’s most sensitive operations.  During the 2006 war with Israel, 250 Quds trainers were in Lebanon assisting Hezbollah.

On July 2, Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, spokesman for the Multinational Force Iraq, explained that the Quds’ goal is to “develop the Iraqi special groups into a network similar to the Lebanese Hezbollah.”  Three training camps inside Iran are operated by the Quds force where Iraqis learn about abduction, employing explosively formed projectiles and combat planning. 

Iran has taken hostages to divert attention from its nuclear program. Last summer, just before the United Nations held hearings to consider sanctioning Iran for its illegal uranium enrichment program, Tehran dispatched a delegation to Hezbollah in Damascus to instigate a regional crisis to draw attention away from the nuclear debate.  Hezbollah immediately abducted two Israeli soldiers which provoked Israel to attack and Hezbollah responded with 4,000 rockets over the 34-day war.  Iran’s mission was accomplished — the world was distracted from Tehran’s nuclear program. 

Iran understands that abduction is an effective weapon.  It can seize foreigners, manipulate the media, garner sympathy across the Islamic world and escape penalty. That’s why the mullahs will continue to abduct Westerners.

“We’ve got the ability to capture a nice bunch of blue-eyed blond-haired officers and feed them to our fighting cocks,” warns Reza Faker, a writer close to President Ahmadinejad. Faker writes for the Revolutionary Guard’s newspaper, Subhi Sadek, that Iran will respond to any attack by abducting more Americans from the “heart of Europe.”

Since 1979, Iran has been at war with the US and the mullahs have effectively used abduction and will continue to do so in the future.  The US should never talk to abductors because that legitimizes them and their deed and almost always backfires.  Our policy should be quick and deadly action against those who take hostages.