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Like many sad stories with unpredictable endings, the U.S.-Iran saga begins with the famous first words spoken by the Islamic Republic: “death to America.” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s government followed that message up by allowing a group of students, including future Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to storm the U.S. Embassy and take American diplomats hostage.


To this day, the Islamic Republic’s slogan remains a staple of meetings with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, official ceremonies, parliamentary sessions, and Friday prayer services across the country. When Iran’s octogenarian mullahs aren’t chanting “death to America,” they’re either trampling on the Star-Spangled Banner (and the Star of David) or inciting others to do the same for their own amusement. 

We should all stop pretending the U.S. hasn’t been on a collision course with Iran since the Islamic revolution.

The Iranian regime is the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism. In January 2020, Iran shot Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 out of the sky, murdering all 176 passengers and crew on board. Today, Iran underwrites Russia’s genocidal war against Ukraine by providing the Russian Army with drones and munitions. Tehran also destabilizes the Middle East by supporting terrorist groups based in Lebanon, Yemen, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, and enabling its proxies to attack American soldiers and their Kurdish partners in Syria and Iraq.

The U.S., like Canada, does not have diplomatic relations with Iran. The benefits conferred by maintaining an official relationship with Tehran are outweighed by the security threat posed by IRGC operatives using Iranian embassies and consulates for diplomatic cover. Last year, Mossad helped Turkish security services uncover an IRGC plot to assassinate an Israeli diplomat in Istanbul. In March 2023, Israel helped Greece’s intelligence services thwart an IRGC-backed terrorist attack at a Jewish restaurant in Athens. Their Cypriot counterparts prevented a similar IRGC-linked operation this past June.  Meanwhile, Israel’s intelligence services have prevented no less than 27 Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks in 2023. There are still 3 more months to go.


For years, the Islamic Republic has resorted to hostage-taking as a form of economic policy. To paraphrase IRGC officer Hassan Abasi, 1 American hostage is worth $1 billion dollars to the U.S. government. There is, in his words, no better way for the Islamic Republic to make money. To no one’s surprise, Iran and its proxies have repeatedly kidnapped tourists, academics and dual nationals. While dozens of Western hostages remain imprisoned by the Islamic Republic, Iran also hijacks foreign-flagged commercial vessels in the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman for ransom payments.

In response to pleas from its allies in the neighborhood, Washington recently increased its presence in the Persian Gulf. First, by deploying more than 3000 marines and sailors to reinforce the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Second, by stationing troops aboard commercial vessels to deter Iranian aggression and guarantee their safe passage in the Strait of Hormuz between Oman and Iran. This is a standard security precaution in response to Iran's aggression, not an escalatory measure. To maximize its effectiveness, this safeguard should also be complemented by re-flagging the commercial vessels in question with American flags. 

To be clear: Washington is not escalating against Tehran. In fact, the Biden Administration has maintained a balanced approach and done its utmost to revive the JCPOA. For example: the White House recently negotiated the release of $6 billion dollars in Iranian assets frozen by South Korea in a prisoner swap deal involving 5 Americans and 5 Iranians. It is undeniable that those U.S. citizens experienced unspeakable suffering during the many years they were imprisoned in Iran. Nevertheless, critics of the policy argue these deals encourage Tehran to continue taking hostages. Even worse, they embolden other hostage takers – like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong-Un – to do the same.

The Islamic Republic's transnational repression against the Iranian diaspora and critics of the regime knows no bounds. Last year, Iranian author Salman Rushdie was stabbed at a speaking engagement in New York state. This year, a group of three was found guilty of attempting to assassinate Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad at her home in Brooklyn. On the other side of the pond, Iran International Studios was forced to relocate its base of operations from London to Washington because British security services could no longer guarantee the safety of journalists. While the list goes on and on, there appears to be no red line the Iranian regime wouldn’t cross.

This week, the U.S. Congress passed the bi-partisan MAHSA Act, named in honor of Mahsa Amini, a brave Iranian who was murdered by the Islamic Republic for not adhering to the regime’s strict dress code imposed on women. The bill strengthens sanctions enforcement against individuals involved in Iran’s weapons development programs, and the Iranian leadership for their egregious human rights violations and support for terrorism. It also includes a resolution related to Iran’s persecution of the Baha’i minority. Three congressmen and women voted against it: Cori Bush (D-MO), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Thomas Massie (R-KY). Remember the names of the appeasers.

Washington has a wide set of legal, political, diplomatic, economic, and military tools at its disposal to deal with Tehran. However this situation evolves, let the record show that the Biden Administration did not fire the first shot nor escalate anywhere along the way. In fact, the U.S. has gone to extreme lengths to revive the JCPOA while avoiding a military confrontation with Iran. Even though Tehran is a bad faith actor, Washington has nonetheless made considerable concessions to the Iranian regime. Some analysts even argue that U.S. policy constitutes appeasement. What happens next is anyone's guess. One thing is certain: the stakes are high, and Iran must not obtain nuclear weapons. The moment it does will be a sad and dangerous day for all of humanity.

Originally published by 19FortyFive on September 14, 2023.

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