This past Sunday Sarah Shroud, one of the three U.S. hikers detained by Iran for over a year, returned to the United States. Shroud was held in Tehran's Evin prison for 410 days after Iran claimed she and two other Americans crossed the border into Iran. Iran then claimed they were U.S. spies. The two other Americans are still in Evin prison, waiting to be tried in Iranian court. In her press conference in New York, Shroud said it was her "deepest hope that the world will not let this humanitarian gesture...go unrecognized". President Ahmadinejad now urges the U.S. to "make a humanitarian gesture to release eight Iranians 'illegally detained' in the United States" according to the BBC.
Is the release of one hiker, truly humanitarian gesture from Iran? Is Iran finally started to bow to the new sanctions imposed this summer? Personally, I don't think that's the main reason. I think Iran is playing a hostage game of their own. Its sort of like two children having an argument; "I'll give yours back if you give mine". This may be stretching it far, but in the Gary Gambill reading (which I thought was really interesting) he talks about redemptive terrorism. Redemptive terrorism "usually involves the seizure of civilian hostages as a 'bargaining chip' to be exchanged for a specific concession." In this case, Iran is holding the U.S. hikers hostage in exchange for the U.S. holding eight Iranians "illegally detained". I think Iran is definitely making a hostage situation, and judging by the speech by Shroud, they let her go back home only to have their message revealed loud and clear to the U.S.
They want a quid pro quo.
Iran has employed terrorism in order to get that quid pro quo from the United States. Now I don't have the information to say the hikers never crossed the Iranian border by mistake, but I do clearly see that Iran took a glimpse at North Korea's playbook. The U.S. has twice sent former Presidents to North Korea to broker the release of Americans. In turn, it gives North Korea an ego boost seeing that the world's dominant nation has to kowtow (you get what I am saying) for their kindness to have them released. Iran, however, has adapted this redemptive terrorist strategy and is now publicly using it on the United States. A concession or diplomatic kowtow from the U.S. would be huge to Iran and to Ahmadinejad. I don't suggest doing that as of now. But it goes to show that any state can play the terrorism game, and its just not exclusive to non-state actors.
Hopefully the other two hikers will be released soon, just as Shroud. However, it seems like Iran is going to be playing this game longer. The real question is, will redemptive terrorism work for Iran? The United States has been dealt the cards, its now their turn act.