Early in August, it was revealed that the January payment, reportedly the first installment in the 1.7 billion dollar settlement of a decades old debt, had taken the form of stacks of foreign currency delivered in the middle of the night on wooden pallets. Subsequently, Pastor Amir Hekmati, one of the American citizens released in the January prisoner swap, reported that Iranian authorities had stated that the hostages’ release was delayed because they were awaiting the arrival of another plane. This was widely interpreted as evidence that the release was conditional on the arrival of the cash.
The latest revelation at first appears to differ from Hekmati’s account. Anonymous State Department sources told the Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two issues operated in the opposite direction, with the US allowing delivery of the cash only after the prisoners had been released. Nevertheless, this appears to only confirm that the two incidents were directly dependent upon each other. Furthermore, the full account in the Wall Street Journal actually aligned with Hekmati’s revelation, although the “arrival” in question was apparently not in Tehran, but Geneva.
If the latest account is accurate, it arguably shows a high degree of coordination, thereby suggesting that both sides of the transaction were aware of the money being exchanged for the hostages. In order to guarantee that the two moves overlapped and that neither could be withdrawn after the fact, the Iranians apparently kept the hostages waiting on the runway until they confirmed that the money had arrived in Geneva, where the hostages would arrive before moving onto the US. Meanwhile, the Americans allowed that money to be taken onto a second plane to be flown to Iran only after they had confirmed that the hostages were in the air.
This fuller account of the exchange further supports the conclusion that many critics of the Obama administration had already arrived at: that the 400 million dollar cash transfer was unmistakably a form of ransom for the hostages. If one accepts that conclusion, it necessarily means that the Obama administration broke with established American policy of not paying ransom, on the understanding that it would encourage more hostage taking and terrorism. Beyond that, the incident also raised the question of whether the administration had broken the law.
Biz Pac Review reminded readers on Thursday that US Representative Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican and member of the House Committee on Intelligence, had previously urged the Treasury Department to explore this question. The article also noted that Pompeo believes that general question to be settled in light of the latest revelations.
“What we know now there is no way the money could have gotten to Tehran without the law being broken,” he said, adding, “Sanctions were violated. Who instructed them to do it and on what authority?”
In raising these more specific questions, the new account of the apparent ransom payment can be expected to also buttress criticism of President Obama’s Iran policy, which many critics have labeled as “appeasement.” Indeed, the ransom payment was cited in Jennifer Rubin’s latest Washington Post column on the topic of Iran. In it, she argued that the next president should undertake an immediate reversal of the current administration’s Iran policy and should put pressure on Iran over issues like its hostage taking and its testing of ballistic missiles, even if the regime threatens to walk away from the 2015 nuclear deal as a result.
Rubin also tied her argument to this week’s other leading Iran story, namely the ongoing deployment of Russian bombers from Iranian air bases, en route to Syria. Rubin recommends that the next president also take a more hard line on Russia with regard to its expanding military relations with Iran, and its support for the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. She argues that in so doing, the US would not only reverse a trend toward appeasement of its traditional enemies, but would also restore confidence in US leadership among Arab nations, most of which share a major interest in the ouster of the Assad regime.
This interest has only grown as Syria has become a clearer symbol of expanding Iranian influence in the region – influence that has met resistance from an Arab coalition operating in absence of US leadership. The intensity of Arab opposition to Iran’s growing strength was highlighted on Thursday when The Tower reported that there is internal conflict within Hamas regarding its would-be Iranian patronage.
Hamas officials in the West Bank reportedly are publicly opposed to Tehran’s efforts to tighten the relationship between itself and the Palestinian terrorist group. Those officials have indicated that they fear the Sunni Muslim Hamas becoming a tool of Iran, like Hezbollah and other Shiite proxies. But more than that, Hamas is apparently concerned about the response that such a relationship would obtain from the Gulf Arab states, which have overwhelmingly broken or diminished their relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as listing Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
With Hamas and other Sunni groups wary of the world’s leading Shiite power, the only regional powers that are clearly not prepared to stand against Iran are those in which Iran has a major foothold, specifically Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. And although these footholds are tenuous as the moment, they stand to deepen if action is not taken against them.
The recent expansion in relations between Iran and Russia may encourage other powers to contribute to a growing alliance. This possibility was demonstrated on Thursday when Newsweek reported that Iraq had opened up its airspace to the Russian air force. This is arguably the clearest indicator of multilateral ties among Iran’s allies and dependents since it was announced that Russia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq were embarking on a formalized intelligence-sharing scheme.