Iran’s campaign of extortion against the world

Iran’s campaign of extortion against the world

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during his swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, August 5, 2021. (Reuters)

Extorting the international community has been one of the pillars of the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.

The Iranian regime has never shown a genuine desire to play by the rules and laws of the global community. This is partly because the theocratic establishment is a revolutionary regime that was founded on the revolutionary ideals of the ruling clerics, not the modern nation-state framework, which is based on the principle of international law. .

Since the regime does not play by the rules, it is looking for ways to coerce the international community into complying with its demands. The initial strategy of extortion was rooted in hostage-taking. At its inception, the regime detained 52 Americans and did not release them for 444 days – the longest hostage-taking in modern history. Later, Tehran also used its nuclear program, militias and cyberattacks as additional powerful extortion strategies.

The trend of hostage taking has continued to this day. The Islamic Republic takes foreign hostages as pawns to extract economic concessions and achieve geopolitical and financial gains. It also uses the hostages as a tool to silence the opposition, as well as to pressure the West to ignore its military adventurism, violations of international law, and progress on its ballistic missile program. The Obama administration, for example, transferred $1.7 billion in cash to Iran in exchange for the release of several Iranian-American citizens.

The Iranian regime even brags about its hostage-taking strategy. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2016 pointed out, “We should wait and see, the United States will offer…several billions of dollars to free” two Iranian-American citizens, Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer. Iran still holds several foreign citizens hostage in its prisons. Among them are British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and US citizens including Namazis, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Sharghi.

The second pillar of extortion is Iran’s nuclear program. Even if the Iranian regime does not continue to acquire nuclear weapons, it is extorting the international community and profiting significantly from the threat of its nuclear program and its continued defiance and violations. It should be noted that it was thanks to Iran’s nuclear program that Tehran received many concessions in 2015, when the P5+1 world powers accepted the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.

The JCPOA set an expiration date for lifting an arms embargo that should never have been part of the nuclear deal. This arms embargo was unfortunately lifted in 2020 even as Iran violated all the terms of the nuclear deal. The 2015 deal also saw the UN Security Council lift the four sets of crippling sanctions it took decades to impose on the Islamic Republic. The rest of the Western world followed suit, with the EU removing all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions against Tehran and starting to do business again with the theocratic establishment.

Iran’s military adventurism and human rights abuses were ignored and Tehran was able to gain global legitimacy, re-enter the global financial system and market many products that were previously banned.

The third pillar of extortion rests on the creation, financing and arming of militias and terrorist groups. Through these groups, the Iranian regime indirectly destabilizes other nations, creating chaos, violence and wars. After inflicting such shocks on foreign corporations and political entities, Iran is pushing for its militias to take over or have a say in any new political establishment. These efforts by Iranian leaders are most evident in Sunni Arab countries, where Tehran is trying to tip the balance of power in its favor, increase its influence and undermine these nations.

The Islamic Republic takes foreign hostages as pawns to extract economic concessions and achieve geopolitical and financial gains.

Dr Majid Rafizadeh

The fourth pillar of Iran’s extortion is its cyberattacks. The Iranian regime has a habit of launching cyberattacks against foreign countries and organizations it considers rivals. For example, several intelligence agencies and officials in 2017 revealed that a group of Iranian hackers, known as “Cadelle and Chafer”, had carried out damaging cyberattacks against Saudi Arabia. Additionally, two people based in Iran have been accused of being behind a series of cyberattacks on US targets in November 2018, including crippling the city government of Atlanta by targeting its hospitals, schools, its state agencies and other institutions. The data of these large institutions has been held hostage in exchange for ransom payments. Brian Benczkowski, the former head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said the individuals were “deliberately engaging in an extreme form of 21st century digital blackmail, attacking and extorting vulnerable victims like hospitals and schools – victims they knew would be willing and able to pay.”

In summary, extortion is a central pillar of the Iranian regime’s foreign policy and it uses these four essential methods to pressure other governments and the international community.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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