Recently, Denmark’s Foreign Ministry announced that the European Union had finally acted upon the recommendations that Danish authorities had first made in October, following the revelation of a plot to assassinate Iranian opposition figures on European soil. The EU will reportedly be enacting sanctions on the Iranian intelligence service, a move that Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen described as a “strong signal from the EU that we will not accept such behavior in Europe.”
It bears mentioning, however, that an even stronger signal is needed in light of the fact that the assassination plot in Denmark was only one of several examples of the escalating threat of Iranian terrorism in the year 2018.
In March of that year, Iranian operatives were arrested in Albania for planning an attack on the compound that houses approximately 3,000 members of the leading Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK), who had relocated to the Balkan country from their embattled residence in Iraq. And in June, the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), came under threat near Paris, where it was holding its annual Iran Freedom rally, with participation from thousands of Iranian expatriates, plus hundreds of political dignitaries from the US and Europe.
At the time of that rally, an Iranian-Belgian couple was arrested at the French border while attempting to transport 500 grams of explosive that had been provided to them by an Iranian diplomat based in Austria. The would-be bombers and their handler, Assadollah Assadi, are all currently facing prosecution in Belgium, and France later expelled another Iranian diplomat after concluding an investigation that determined the leadership of the Islamic Republic was unquestionably responsible for the Paris plot. Albania and the Netherlands each undertook similar expulsions last year, signaling broader recognition of the potential terrorist-supporting function of Iran’s diplomatic infrastructure.
In fact, after the disruption of the June 30 bomb plot, a representative of the Belgian judiciary told reporters that nearly all Iranian diplomats in Europe are in fact members of the Iranian secret service.
In response to the news that the EU had frozen the assets of the intelligence service and two of its staff on Tuesday, the NCRI quickly issued a statement calling for further action. “It is time for the EU to adopt a firm policy towards the mullah’s regime by expelling all of its mercenaries and agents from Europe,” the statement said. “The last three decades have shown that only firm language is understood by the mullahs.”
The asset freeze is a positive sign, and not the first. It is a symbol of an ongoing trend toward greater recognition of the Iranian threat, and a strengthening of the political willpower that is needed to confront it. But that trend is still proceeding at too slow a pace. Meanwhile, the danger is growing much more quickly. In addition to Denmark, Albania, and France, Iranian terrorism also targeted Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and Germany over the course of 2018. Although the Netherlands attributed at least two killings to Iranian operatives, the most devastating plots have been unsuccessful so far, but Europe cannot count on its luck holding out over the long term, especially if lawmakers fail to take measures that will truly disrupt the regime’s terrorist infrastructure.
Moderate penalties from narrowly-targeted economic sanctions will not be sufficient, not in view of what is at stake for Tehran. The past year’s plots, especially for potentially devastating attacks in Albania and France, were motivated in large part by wide-ranging anti-government protests that were then active throughout the Islamic Republic, and remain so to this day. The clerical regime is desperate to undermine any and all foreign networks of support for domestic activism, a great deal of which has been attributed to the “resistance units” of the People’s Mojahedin.
Under these circumstances, Iranian expatriate communities in every corner of the world are potential targets, and their host countries are in severe danger of suffering collateral damage alongside the dire insult of having their autonomy violated by terrorists dispatched by the Iranian government. But given the persistence of what NCRI’s President elect Maryam Rajavi described as a “year full of uprisings” in Iran, the current moment is also defined by a very strong potential for the success of firm Western policies for dealing with the Iranian regime.
That regime cannot hope to effectively manage domestic unrest and escalating foreign pressure at the same time. The expulsion of Iranian diplomats, the implementation of stronger sanctions, and other such firm policies will not only help defend the Western world against Iran-backed terrorism, it will also help the Iranian people to even more strongly assert their demands for civic freedoms and democratic governance.
The past year’s Iranian terror plots only confirm what should have already become clear to the international community over the past 39 years: belligerence on the world stage is a central part of the clerical regime’s identity, and it will only come to an end once that regime loses its hold on power. Tehran’s aggressiveness is currently at its highest point in years, but its control over the Iranian population is potentially at its weakest point in history. The convergence of these circumstances should leave no doubt in the minds of any Western policymaker regarding what should be done.
*Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice-president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is currently president of the Brussels-based International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ)
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