|How should Tehran address abduction of Iranian nationals in Syria?||
In early August 2012, a number of retired members of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) travelled to Damascus to visit the holy shrine of Hazrat Zeinab (SA), the daughter of Imam Ali (AS).
The bus carrying the Iranian nationals was suddenly attacked by a group of armed terrorists, who later identified themselves as rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Western media quickly seized the opportunity and claimed the hostages were military men dispatched by Iran to kill Syrian protesters.
The opposition in Syria is comprised of various groups and factions, each having its own ideology and agenda. Opposition groups have had many disagreements over the past 20 months. However, all opposition groups depend on funds and weapons provided by certain Western countries and their regional proxies. It is believed that the abduction of the Iranian nationals was approved by these foreign governments, and without their permission and assistance, it would have been almost impossible for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to conduct such an operation.
Immediately after the abduction, the Islamic Republic of Iran began intelligence activities to identify the kidnappers and their foreign supporters. Tehran also asked international organizations to help the efforts to obtain the release of the hostages. Over the past two months, Iran has intensified its efforts to find a channel to hold negotiations on the issue with the regional governments involved in the Syrian crisis. Some high-ranking commanders of the FSA have said that they will only free the Iranian hostages if Iran uses its influence to convince the Syrian government to release rebel prisoners. But Iran is not in a position to guarantee such a prisoner swap, and it is the Syrian government that must make a decision on the issue.
The FSA’s threats to kill the Iranian abductees clearly prove that the group is intrinsically terrorist. And the fact that the Syrian opposition resorts to threats gives the lie to their claims that they are fighting for democracy and freedom.
However, Tehran should take the threats more seriously. It should engage in talks with the West’s three regional proxies -- Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- because these three countries seem to have the authority and influence to obtain the release of the hostages.
Mohammad Irani formerly served as Iran’s ambassador to Jordan and Lebanon and is an expert in Middle Eastern studies based in Tehran.
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