And yet, when it comes to Iran at least, ransom payments are standard operating procedure. It goes back to the Reagan administration. In the early 1980s, Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy in Lebanon, had taken several Americans hostage. In 1984, the Reagan administration began what it had hoped was an opening to Iranian moderates (sound familiar?). Eventually, that secret diplomacy turned into a deal to exchange anti-tank missiles from Israel for the release of hostages in Lebanon. The profits from the arms sale later went to fund the Nicaraguan Contras, but that’s another story.
Reagan didn’t get his story straight at first. In an address in November 1986 he acknowledged the arms sale, but insisted it was not part of a deal to free the hostages. By March 1987, Reagan came clean to the American people and acknowledged the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran.
All of this is important because the Iranians learned an important lesson: Hostage-taking works. Despite the completion of the Iran nuclear deal a year ago, the payment of cash, the release of Iranian nationals and the State Department campaign to encourage foreign investment in Iran, Iran’s regime is keeping to form. Since releasing the four U.S. citizens in January, the regime has arrested two more Iranian-Americans and detained other Westerners. The Wall Street Journal reports that friends and family of two captives say Iran wants more cash or a prisoner exchange.