Why foreign nationals should beware of traveling to Iran الدكتور ماجد ربيزاده: لهذه الأسباب على الأجانب الحذر من السفر إلى إيران
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/September 23/18
At these critical times, foreign nationals ought to be extremely cautious about traveling to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some foreign governments have prudently begun to warn their citizens. For example, the British Foreign Office has recently warned all UK-Iranian dual nationals not to travel to Iran. Its statement declared: “There is a risk that British nationals, and a higher risk that British/Iranian dual nationals, could be arbitrarily detained in Iran. All British nationals should consider carefully the risks of traveling to Iran.”
While some may view such a move as unprecedented, it is without adoubt a significant blow to the so-called moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
One of the promises of the Iranian president and the loyalists of his political party, the Moderation and Development Party, has been to improve diplomatic relationships with the rest of the world, specifically European countries. Iranian leaders have also been boasting that the EU is on the side of Tehran after the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly labeled as the Iran nuclear deal, and imposed sanctions on Tehran.
Rouhani also famously pledged to improve the nation’s tourism industry and attract more tourists in order to enhance the country’s economy. In fact, the president encouraged foreign citizens to come to Tehran and frequently put significant emphasis on the intersection between the private sector, tourism and foreign nations. He wrote on Twitter: “Our approach to develop #tourism sector is to develop ground for private sector. We welcome Iranian investors, both home and abroad.”
Foreign nationals ought to be extremely cautious about traveling to Iran as the regime is desperate for more hostages to exploit for political, geostrategic and financial gain.
It is important to point out that the UK has wisely realized the danger that its citizens can face in case they travel to Iran, in spite of the fact that the UK has an embassy in Tehran and in spite of the fact that the UK and the Iranian government have diplomatic ties at this moment.
The British government has become extremely frustrated with the Iranian regime’s treatment of British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Zaghari-Ratcliffe — a project manager at the Thomson Reuters Foundation — was with her infant daughter when the Islamic Republic confiscated their passports. She has since been imprisoned for more than two years on trumped-up charges such as orchestrating a “soft overthrow” and “spreading propaganda against the state.”
Despite the fact that the UK has increased trade with Iran (up 153 percent in the 12 months to March 20), reopened its embassy in Tehran and strengthened its ties with Iran in the last few years, specifically after the nuclear deal, the Iranian authorities have not changed their policy of hostage-taking.
In fact, the number of foreign nationals imprisoned in Iran has increased in the few years since the West enhanced its political and economic ties with the Islamic Republic. The US State Department has also acknowledged the increasing threat against Americans since the deal was reached, stating in a travel warning: “Iran has continued to harass, arrest, and detain US citizens, in particular dual nationals.”
The Iranian regime seeks to achieve several objectives by targeting foreign citizens and taking them hostage. One objective is to use hostages as political pawns and leverage against other governments. This has been the policy of the theocratic establishment since the revolution in 1979, starting with the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran, which led to 52 Americans being held hostage for 444 days. The regime released them when it had achieved its political and ideological objectives.
Another objective is to pressure other governments into granting Tehran more economic concessions. For example, in the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Tehran attempted to pressure the UK government into paying off $530 million of debt. The Iranian regime also secretly received $400 million in cash from the Obama administration when it swapped four Iranian-Americans for seven Iranian prisoners in the US.
The regime is also trying to keep Iranian society insulated from exposure to the West, since Iran’s ruling clerics oppose and resent any cultural, political or social influence linked to the West. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has frequently warned that the biggest threat to Iran is the infiltration of Western culture and ideology. This is because he and the senior cadres of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fear that the Western culture and lifestyle will further push Iran’s youths into rising up against the regime.
In a nutshell, foreign nationals ought to be extremely cautious about traveling to the Islamic Republic, particularly at this critical time. Hostage taking is a core pillar of the ruling mullahs’ foreign policy and the regime’s revolutionary ideology. The theocratic establishment is desperate for more foreign hostages in order to exploit them as political, geostrategic and financial pawns. The UN should take Iran’s hostage-taking policy seriously and hold the Iranian authorities accountable.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh