What Iran hopes to gain by holding Safarli hostage remains to be seen. However, this is the same country that recently attempted to execute Azerbaijani Iranian dissident Ahmad Obali and his son Deniz, attempted to assassinate an Azerbaijani member of parliament and murdered an Azerbaijani security guard in an attack upon the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran on International Holocaust Memorial Day earlier this year.
This latest attack against Azerbaijan comes after the Iranians were increasingly critical of Azerbaijan for opening up an embassy in Tel Aviv. In addition, Iran stands to lose much influence in the Caucuses in the wake of a proposed peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Based on past precedent, it is likely that the Iranians seek to utilize Safarli as leverage against Azerbaijan in order to prompt them to change their policies.
This is not the first time that Iran has held hostage foreign citizens who visited their country. British Iranian aid worker Nazarin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 on fabricated espionage charges and was not released until 2022. “The Iranian authorities deliberately and shamelessly deprived Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe of her freedom. They used spurious national security charges and sham judicial proceedings against her with the aim of exerting pressure on the UK government to settle its debts,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International. She was released only after the British government paid a bribe for her freedom.
Similarly, Anoosheh Ashoori, a 67-year-old retired British-Iranian engineer, was held hostage alongside Ratcliffe and was released together with her after the British government paid a bribe to the Iranians.
Today, Swedish Iranian academic Ahmadreza Djalali remains in Iranian custody on false charges and is now at risk of being executed.
According to Amnesty International, “Mounting evidence strongly indicates that the Iranian authorities are committing the crime of hostage-taking against Ahmadreza Djalali, and threatening to execute him in order to compel third parties to swap him for former Iranian officials convicted and/or on trial abroad as well as to refrain from future prosecutions of Iranian officials.”
And in 2008, Iran arrested another Azerbaijani, Rashad Aliyev, on false charges as well.
None of the above includes the Iranian hostage crisis, where for 444 days, 52 American citizens were held hostage inside of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
In light of Iran’s rogue behavior consisting of taking hostages, support for terror organizations in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and Iraq, and considering their technical advancements in weapons technology including nuclear ones even in the midst of sanctions, it would be folly for the world to make a fresh nuclear deal with Iran. Such a deal would only worsen the plight of poor Safarli and others who are presently held hostage in Tehran.
Ayoob Kara served as Israel's Minister of Communication under Netanyahu.