Following days of heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran, the Iranians have condemned Amir Mirza Hekmati to death for allegedly spying for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Amir Hekmati, a dual US-Iran citizen, is said to be guilty of manipulating public opinion in the Middle East, on behalf of US intelligence, through his work at a New-York video game company. The US has refuted all claims of Hekmati’s charge of espionage, stating that the only evident connection between the Arizona man the US government is his former occupation as a translator for the Marines. Iran’s Farsi language is one of the two main languages spoken in Afghanistan and the US military often deploys Americans of Iranian origin there as translators. The execution can still be repudiated by Iran’s highest court, which must confirm all death sentences. Despite the frequency of death sentences in Tehran for crimes such as drug dealing and murder, there are no known reports of Iran having executed any US citizens as spies.
“Amir Mirza Hekmati was sentenced to death for cooperating with the hostile country America and spying for the CIA. The court found him Corrupt on the Eath and Mohareb (one who wages war on God). Hekmati can appeal to the Supreme Court.” – Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, judiciary spokesman
The recent escalation of tension has come after a long history of conflict, stemming from the Iranian Hostage Crisis after the raid on the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. Today, there are no formal diplomatic relations between Iran and the US. Due to these poor relations, Iran’s sole connection to the US is its interests section at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, and the US solely maintains an interests section at the Swiss embassy in Tehran. So saying, the incarceration of Hekmati comes after a history of such provocations. 3 US backpackers were jailed in Iran as spied in 2009, but were freed in 2010 and 2011 in what President Ahmadinejad called a humanitarian gesture. Iranian-American Roxana Saberi, sentenced to 8 years for spying in 2009, was freed after 100 days. In May, Iran said it had arrested 30 people on suspicion of spying for the US. It later announced that 15 people had been indicted for spying for Washington and Israel.
“The responsible thing to do right now, is to keep putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them (Iran) to do the right thing. And to make sure that they do not make the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon.” – Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defense
Moreover, tensions have reached a new high over Tehran’s nuclear program. The West fears the work is secret atomic weapons program, while Iran naturally insists it is purely peaceful. Iran has started refining uranium deep inside a mountain at the Fordow underground site near the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom. With Iran’s escalation of nuclear technology, as well as its successful tests of short-range missiles, US President Obama signed a new measure into law on New Year’s Eve that, if fully implemented, would prevent most countries from buying Iranian oil. The sanctions have thus far had little real impact on the Iranian economy, though with the EU poised to support US measures, such tactics will surely begin to take a toll. The European Union, which still buys about 1/5 of Iran’s oil, is preparing to announce an embargo at the end of this month, and other countries will have to cut purchases of Iranian crude to receive waivers from the US sanctions.
In retrospect, the relations between the US and Iran had maintained a steady trend of heightened tensions, in that the recent provocations by Iran will surely test American patience and resolve, but will also test Iran’s grit against the intensification of sanctions and the loss of formidable trade partners. The rial currency has plunged and Iranians have scrambled to withdraw savings from banks to buy dollars. The hardship comes just two months before parliamentary elections, Iran’s first since a 2009 Presidential vote that triggered 8 months of angry street demonstrations, all of which were suppressed by force. Evidently, the Iranian society is closer to dissent and rebellion than previously, and if fueled by fiscal downturn and the promise of support by the US, as would most likely come, the Iranian government has more to lose if it chooses to further antagonize the American people.