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Ely Karmon

The price Thailand – and the world – will pay to free its hostages

Even with its history of being targeted by Iranian terrorism, Thai negotiators still went to Tehran to try to cut a deal with Hamas
A Thai delegation meeting in Tehran with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, as shown on Channel 12 news on November 7, 2023 (Screenshot used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
A Thai delegation meeting in Tehran with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, as shown on Channel 12 news on November 7, 2023 (Screenshot used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

On Monday, Thailand’s prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, said the Thai government has photographs of Thai workers who are being held hostage in Gaza by Hamas following its October 7 rampage in Israel, showing they are alive. The Thai government’s official number of abductions is 24, while 34 Thais are known to have been killed and 19 injured. Srettha told reporters that “the negotiation efforts are still ongoing.”

And the host for those ongoing efforts? Iran. With its long and lucrative dealings in the hostage business, Tehran was quick to insert itself into the sensitive issue of freeing the non-Israeli foreigners Hamas terrorists kidnapped to Gaza on October 7. 

Thai officials held a two-hour meeting with Hamas officials in Tehran on October 26 and were given a pledge that the Thais would be released at the “right time.” Areepen Uttarasin, who led the three-person team — all Muslims — appointed by the speaker of the Thai parliament, said he “asked them to release them because they are innocent.” 

“They assured me that they were taking good care of them, but they couldn’t tell me the release date… They were waiting for the right time,” Areepan said, adding, “they respect Thailand.”

One wonders whether the negotiators asked their Hamas interlocutors why, as devout Muslims, these terrorists killed so many innocent Thais at all – some of them decapitated – and why they took others hostage.

It appears Thailand, which has a long and fraught relationship with Iranian terrorism, has again decided to appeal to the “kindness” of the Ayatollahs to solve the problem of their hostages without taking into consideration the regional and international impact of such a policy. 

A favorite target of Iranian and Hezbollah terrorism

Bangkok will most likely capitulate to Iranian and Iran-backed terrorism because that’s just what it has done in the past.

On March 11, 1994, a minor traffic accident between a motorcycle taxi and a six-wheeler averted what could have been one of the biggest catastrophes in Thailand’s history. The truck driver panicked and fled, leaving the abandoned truck about 250 meters from the Israeli embassy. The vehicle was seized and was soon found to be carrying enough explosives to devastate several city blocks.

Thai police arrested Iranian national Hossein Shahriarifar on suspicion of making the bomb and driving the truck. He was sentenced to death, but the Supreme Court reversed the verdict. Under heavy Iranian pressure, Shahriarifar was released from prison in 1998, leaving many to question whether justice had been served.

In a second case, in 2012, Thai authorities arrested Hussein Atris, a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent linked to Hezbollah. Atris led Thai police to four tons of bomb-making materials in a commercial building not far from Bangkok. He was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison and then released in September 2014. (This, by the way, was not the only case of Hezbollah attempts to stage terrorist attacks in Thailand.)

Yet another attempt in 2012 by an Iranian team of seven terrorists planning to attack Israeli targets in Bangkok was uncovered after one of them was seriously wounded in a “work accident.” Mohammad Hazaei, whom Thai authorities suspect headed the Iranian operational group, was captured. Other suspects fled and Thai police later arrested an operative, Madani Seyed Mehrded. Three Iranians were jailed for the bomb plot.

In November 2020, Thailand freed the three Iranians after Iran released British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic studies who was held on trumped up spying charges. Thai authorities claim the three Iranians were not exchanged with anyone and the Australian government has been silent on the circumstances surrounding the deal, but some observers have said it could encourage Iran’s “hostage diplomacy.”

Thailand is apparently not alone in caving to terrorism. It seems that several European countries have also appealed to Iran’s support in freeing their citizens held hostages in Gaza.

Hopefully, the leaders of these countries remember how Belgium reached a shameful deal with Tehran: an innocent Belgian aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, held for 455 days in Iran on fake charges of spying, swapped for an Iranian intelligence officer, Assadollah Assadi, sentenced to 20 years in prison for orchestrating a bomb attack in June 2018 against a major gathering of an Iranian opposition group near Paris, France. 

This “victory” of the ayatollahs’ regime could impact negatively on dozens of other cases of European citizens taken hostage in Iran for their alleged role in the huge popular protests against the death of the young woman Mahsa Amini in police custody and the ferocious repression by the government’s Islamic Guards.

After her liberation from Iranian prison, Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert wrote: “the scourge of hostage diplomacy and financial deals only serve to fuel and incentivise Iran’s hostage-taking further.”

Allowing Iran to take advantage of its symbiotic relationship with the Hamas/ISIS terrorist entity will only reinforce its aggressive strategy in the region and beyond against the United States, NATO, Europe and all democratic countries.

About the Author
Dr. Ely Karmon is Senior Research Scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya