The kidnapping of three Americans in Iraq came after intelligence warnings that Iranian-backed militias sought US hostages, CBS News reported late last night. The intel surprised the Obama administration, according to CBS’ sources, because they figured the deal they had negotiated for the prisoner swap that took place this weekend had convinced Tehran to call off their proxies on further hostage-taking.
“Gunmen in military uniforms came in five or six SUVs, they entered the building and then left almost immediately,” said Mohammad Jabar, 35, who runs a shop down the street from the three-story apartment building where the Americans had been invited by their Iraqi interpreter.
“A few hours later we heard that three foreigners had been kidnapped by these gunmen,” Jabar said.
The three were abducted in Dora, a mixed neighborhood that is home to both Shiites and Sunnis. However, they were then taken to Sadr City, a vast and densely populated Shiite district to the east, and there “all communication ceased,” an Iraqi intelligence official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. …
A State Department source told CBS News that the U.S. embassy received threat information last week that an Iranian-backed Shiite militia group wanted to seize an American or an American contractor.
Officials in Washington had hoped the Iranian government would tell the militia group to hold off because of all the negotiations surrounding the prisoner swap that saw the release of five Americans. The State Department source said the fear was that one of the groups might have “gone off the reservation.”
Hoped? That’s a solid basis for dealing with antagonists in the Middle East. It also follows the Iranian attempts to seize two members of Jason Rezaian’s family as hostages before the prisoner swap, repeatedly keeping his wife and mother from joining the Americans on the plane arranged by the Swiss government.
What do these two incidents tell us? It tells us that the Iranians respond to perverse incentives. If we dispense with our leverage on American hostages to get a worthless nuclear-arms deal with Tehran and then pay Iran $1.7 billion and free up 21 Iranians to get back five Americans, then Iran understands the value of hostaging … again, let’s not forget. Iran’s proxy army Hezbollah conducted a series of long-term abductions of Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s, too, leading to the deeply misguided Iran-Contra scandal and weapons sales to the mullahs.
Michael Totten also sees this as a case of perverse incentives favoring the mullahs:
A fair swap would have been three innocent prisoners for three innocent prisoners, but the United States doesn’t randomly grab foreign nationals off the streets to use as bargaining chips, so that was never an option.
If the Iranian government had released innocent people because they’re innocent like it’s supposed to—then we could say we had a good day. But that’s not what happened. That’s not even close to what happened. …
Iran committed three criminal acts against American citizens and paid no price. We put kidnappers in prison for a very long time in this country, but the Iranian government was rewarded.
What’s to stop that government from doing it again?
Why should the Iranian government stop? Kidnapping and ransoming hostages works. And the regime is already gearing up to do it again.
Whether Iran wants more leverage for broader purposes or just another opportunity to humiliate the US is anyone’s guess, but we’d better hope it’s the latter. That seems to be the basis of our foreign policy lately anyway. It certainly isn’t dealing from strength.