The circumstances of Robert Levinson’s abduction, arrest and probable death in Iran remain a deep mystery. The former FBI agent disappeared on the Iranian island of Kish on March 7, 2007 and has not been seen in person since that dark day.
Several days ago, though, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called upon Iran “to provide credible answers” regarding his disappearance. “This case is not closed,” he declared.
At the same time, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the United States “will continue to demand answers and to hold Iran accountable.”
The Iranian regime has consistently denied having any information about his whereabouts. Nor have his remains turned up.
For years, US officials claimed that Levinson was working independently on a private investigation when he vanished. But in 2013, the Associated Press reported he had been sent to Iran on a mission by CIA analysts who had no authority to dispatch him to that small resort island.
In 2010, his family received a heart-rending video less than a minute in length in which he which he described his desperate situation. Levinson admitted he was not in very good health but claimed he was being treated well. And he pleaded to be rescued from captivity. “Please help me get home,” he said in a weak voice. “Thirty-three years of service to the United States government deserves something.”
A year later, Levinson’s wife, Christine, received proof-of-life photographs in which her husband, the longest-held American hostage in history, appeared disheveled with a long beard and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit.
Last March, the US government announced that Levinson had died in Iranian custody shortly before the coronavirus outbreak in Iran. Shortly afterward, his family released an anguished statement: “It is impossible to describe our pain. Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man we have ever known, a new reality that it inconceivable to us.”
This past December, the United States formally blamed Iran for Levinson’s presumed death, saying the Iranian government had sanctioned it, and publicly identified two Iranian intelligence officers believed responsible for his kidnapping.
It would be astonishing if Iran acknowledges its key role in the Levinson affair. The reasons are clear. Iran has been at loggerheads with the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution and has a dismal record of imprisoning foreigners and dual Iranian-US citizens as potential bargaining chips.
Iran is currently detaining several Americans on trumped-up charges of espionage. Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, has been in communication with Iran over this issue.
Given the perennial tensions between the United States and Iran, it would be extremely surprising if Tehran tells the truth about Levinson’s tragic fate. His bereaved family should not expect any breakthroughs or miracles.