Ever since November 4, 1979, when Iran took 52 US diplomats and citizens hostage, the Iranians have used hostage-taking as a means of extracting huge sums of money and political capital from the United States. President Jimmy Carter lost his election to President Ronald Reagan because of the hostage crisis and Carter’s failed attempt to free them; eight American servicemen were killed. It wasn’t coincidental that the hostages were released on the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.
Israel’s daring capture of an Iranian general who worked closely with master terrorist General Qasem Soleimani in order to obtain information on Lieutenant Colonel Ron Arad, held captive by Iran since 1986, raised the issue once again of Iran’s use of captives to extract a heavy price.
Despite the Obama administration agreeing to one of the worst deals the United States ever made with a foreign power – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA in July of 2015 – not one American citizen was released as part of the deal. This created a major outcry in the United States.
As a result of heavy criticism, President Obama agreed to send a total of $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, $1.3 billion in cash was sent to Iran. That money was supposedly interest on money ($400 million) the Shah of Iran sent to acquire American weapons prior to the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. This was on top of the $150 billion freed up from frozen bank assets after sanctions were lifted in 2015 as part of the deal. Additionally, the $400 million sent to Iran to free the four American hostages was money allocated for paying victims of Iranian terror, Stephen Flatow’s daughter Alisa, who was murdered in 1995. The Iranians had absolutely no right to this money. It was pure extortion. Even the Washington Post in March of 2018 ran a headline: “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 House 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 Qasem 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. Mr. Levinson was a former FBI official who was taken hostage in Iran in 2007. He is believed to have died in March 2020 in Iran’s jails. 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 (age 84, in need of immediate medical care) and Siamak Namazi (age 50, held since 2015).
Two other Americans, Emad Sharghi (age 56, a businessman) and Morad Tahbaz (co-founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, held since 2018), have been jailed. The daughters of Sharghi 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 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 the day President Reagan was inaugurated. This is the America I remember. We should all take note.
Dr. Joe Frager is Chairman of the Israel Advocacy Commission for the Rabbinical Alliance of America; Chairman of the Executive Committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim; Dean at Kollel Ayshel Avraham; Executive Vice President of the Israel Heritage Foundation; and a physician in practice for 41 years.