Why is the Biden administration continuing to negotiate with the mullahs of Iran to revive the nuclear deal and lift sanctions placed against them, after the country, during nuclear talks, was caught plotting to kidnap Masih Alinejad, a US citizen in Brooklyn, New York? Pictured: Alinejad speaks at the Women in the World Summit, at Lincoln Center on April 12, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Why is the Biden administration continuing to negotiate with the mullahs of Iran to revive the nuclear deal and lift sanctions placed against them -- an act that would hugely strengthen their regime -- after the country, during nuclear talks, was caught plotting to kidnap a US citizen in Brooklyn, New York?
Even The Washington Post pointed out that the attempted kidnapping should be a serious warning to the Biden administration:
"The message for the Biden administration, which has frequently proclaimed its intention to defend pro-democracy dissidents, is that Iran and other foreign dictatorships won't shrink from launching attacks inside the United States unless deterred.... As Ms. Alinejad told the New York Times, the Iranians 'are not scared of America — they're scared of me.'"
Evidently a diet of US groveling and appeasement will not deter Iran and other foreign dictatorships from initiating increasingly hostile acts.
U.S. prosecutors have charged four Iranians, Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, aka Vezerat Salimi/Haj Ali, 50; Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45, who are believed to be intelligence operatives for the Iranian regime, with plotting to kidnap the journalist, Masih Alinejad, who has dual American-Iranian citizenship,
A fifth person, Niloufar Bahadorifar, a California resident, again originally from Iran, was charged with allegedly providing financial assistance for the plot, sanctions violations conspiracy, bank and wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. Audrey Strauss, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said:
"As alleged, four of the defendants monitored and planned to kidnap a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime's autocracy, and to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim's fate would have been uncertain at best."
By attempting to kidnap an American citizen on American soil, Iran was actively violating US sovereignty. Nevertheless, the Biden administration not only remains silent about the incident but announced after the attempted kidnapping that it will still keep pushing ahead to revive the grotesque 2015 nuclear deal, which not only permits Iran to possess an unlimited nuclear weapons after the deal's expiration date, but also lifts sanctions that are currently hurting the mullahs' economy. The Americans, it seems, want to reward the mullahs for taking over Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq and soon possibly Jordan -- so, what incentive is there for the mullahs to stop?
It is also extremely concerning that Tehran evidently has agents inside the United States.
The Iranian regime reportedly hired private investigators in Manhattan to surveil Ms. Alinejad and were planning to send her to Venezuela by boat and then on to Iran. The Justice Department explained the operation in detail:
"As part of the kidnapping plot, the Farahani-led intelligence network also researched methods of transporting Victim-1 out of the United States for rendition to Iran. Sadeghi, for example, researched a service offering military-style speedboats for self-operated maritime evacuation out of New York City, and maritime travel from New York to Venezuela, a country whose de facto government has friendly relations with Iran. Khazein researched travel routes from Victim-1's residence to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn; the location of Victim-1's residence relative to Venezuela; and the location of Victim-1's residence relative to Tehran."
The Iranian regime has a magnificent relationship with Venezuela and continues to expand its military, political and economic ties with it. The regime has, in fact, been using Venezuela for years to increase its influence -- and the presence of its proxies -- in Latin America and North America. Venezuela has granted thousands of passports to Iranians -- documents that can then be used for travel to North America or Europe.
The US, it seems, only a few years ago, became concerned about the presence of Iran's proxies in Venezuela. Ambassador Nathan Sales, Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department, said a bit more than a year ago:
"We're concerned that Maduro has extended safe harbor to a number of terrorist groups, the ELN [National Liberation Army] in particular, but also FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] dissidents who rejected the peace accord, as well as supporters and sympathizers of Hezbollah."
Although this current incident is the first time the Iranian regime has been caught trying to kidnap a dissident on the US soil, it is not the first time that Tehran has attempted to kidnap, or lure dissidents and journalists back to Iran, or silence freedom of expression. A well-known dissident was executed in late 2020 in Iran. Rouhollah Zam, a journalist who lived in exile in France, and ran an online news site, Amad News -- his channel on the messaging app Telegram reportedly had more than a million followers -- was reportedly kidnapped by operatives working for the Iranian regime shortly after he left for Iraq on October 11, 2019.
Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Tehran appears to have been attempting to become the dominant hegemon not only in the Middle East -- by constant maneuvers to control Lebanon, Syria, Iraq , Yemen, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip -- but around the world. At the same time, it is sending a warning to its population that any opposition to the political establishment will be dealt with harshly. Now, even being in the US is not safe anymore.
In other cases, Iran has assassinated dissidents on foreign soil and attempted to carry out terror plots. In July 2018, a foiled a terrorist attack in Paris targeted a large convention attended by this author as well as high-level speakers including former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird. A few months later, in October, an Iranian diplomat and several other individuals of Iranian origin were arrested in France, Belgium and Germany for what French intelligence officials concluded was a foiled bomb plot, sponsored by the Iranian regime.
Now, the Biden administration -- in its transparent eagerness to resume negotiations over the hopeless JCPOA agreement entrenching Iran's nuclear breakout capability -- appears simply to have has emboldened the Iranian regime. Will the Biden administration ever see that, to bring peace to the region and, by expansion, to the rest of the world, negotiations, concessions and offering incentive packages to the mullahs simply will not work?
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu