By Hamid Yazdan Panah
This past week the regime in Iran resorted to one of its most tried true techniques, taking hostages in order to pursue political ends. The regime detained 10 American sailors aboard two vessels in the Persian Gulf. The soldiers were held, paraded before cameras and used for propaganda purposes before they were released. The arrest and release was cited by some in the West as a departure from the regimes past behavior, and an indication of a “new era” with respect to the recent nuclear accord, yet the political theater put on by the regime was nothing more than business as usual.
The taking of the US sailors is actually the continuation of a long standing policy by the regime, beginning with the Iranian hostage crisis, and continuing through the present era with the taking of British sailors, American citizens, and Iranian-Americans. These acts, which are terroristic in nature, have long served very specific political purposes. For example in the 1980’s the regime used French hostages in Lebanon to pressure France into expelling a prominent Iranian dissident.
The regime not only uses the hostage taking for international deals, but also turns the ordeal into political theater for its own internal use. This past week the regime aired several news clips and interviews with the sailors, who were forced to give confessions as to their mistakes, and to apologize for their behaviors. According to CNN, the sailors were specifically instructed to “act happy” during the televised interrogations.
The regime coupled images of the submissive sailors apologizing, with statements by the revolutionary guard claiming that they had released the sailors after determining that there was a mistake and receiving an apology. In propaganda terms the regime attempted to project its own strength and benevolence towards the “lost” sailors to its own people in an attempt to portray the revolutionary guards as both powerful and merciful. The ridiculous attempts at propaganda were played all throughout Iranian television with added drama and flair, and will no doubt be recycled by the regime and its mouth pieces for weeks to come.
What is more interesting than these predictable ploys by the regime is the treatment of the incident by the West, particularly Western outlets and even governmental officials. Many have gone out of their way to praise Iran for the quick release, and claiming this is the indication of a new “mature” relationship with the regime. No doubt the regime itself used the quick release as a nod and wink to the West, indicating that it could continue to be the problem child it has long been, but in this instance it would play nice.
The fact that we are praising the regime for taking hostages but releasing them sooner than expected shows just how misguided the current policy towards Iran is. That is not to say that the incident should have sparked a confrontation, but the fact remains that Iran’s actions were both provocative and calculated, and were not exactly worthy of praise. Instead they are simply the latest iteration of an old policy, one which attempts to portray the dictatorship as strong, while simultaneously currying favor with the West. This may be seen as new and exciting for political interests who stand to gain from the nuclear deal, but it is business as usual for the regime in Iran.
Hamid Yazdan Panah is an Iranian-American human rights activist and attorney focused on immigration and asylum in the San Francisco Bay Area.