January 28, 2016
Dear Friend of Israel,
Last week, four American hostages and their loved ones rejoiced when the hostages were released after being held for years in Iranian prisons. One, a Washington Post reporter, had been held for a year and a half. Another, Iranian-American Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, had been held for more than three years – imprisoned for his conversion from Islam to Christianity.
The release, however happy it may have been, came at a high cost to the United States. Sanctions against Iran were lifted, and several days before the release, the U.S. wired billions of dollars to the Islamic Republic. One Iranian general referred to the payment as essentially a ransom payment, a claim the U.S. emphatically denies. The U.S. also released seven Iranian prisoners who had been convicted of sanctions violations.
Michael Totten, one of the smartest and best-informed observers of events in the Middle East, wrote after the release of the prisoners, “It’s terrific for the freed prisoners, obviously, and it’s almost as terrific for their friends, family, and colleagues, but the ransom was insanely steep … If the Iranian government had released innocent people because they’re innocent like it’s supposed to — then we could say we had a good day. But that’s not what happened. That’s not even close to what happened.”
Equally skeptical was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Long a staunch opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, and a harsh critic of Iran’s hostile stance toward Israel and the west, the Prime Minister told the media that, while he hoped to be proven wrong, “I have my doubts [about Iran’s compliance with the deal], and we shall see very soon.”
Any assumption that Iran is acting in good faith is highly dubious; its history of duplicity and deception speaks otherwise. And any assumption that any religious or ethnic minority will fare well in a country governed by harsh, radical Islamist rule is likewise an illusion. Christians, in particular those who practice their faith openly – face special dangers every day. The terrible risks they face in this region – risks that are rising — weigh heavy on me, and are certainly a cause for us all to pray for God’s mighty hand of protection.
As we do so, let us rejoice and give thanks to God, along with the freed hostages, their families, and the entire U.S., at the release of these unjustly imprisoned men. But let us also fervently hope and pray that this deal has not set a dangerous precedent – a precedent that would allow Iran, or any other rogue nation, to use hostages as a bargaining chip in their deadly game of cat and mouse.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President