Iran–European Union relations were strained in the early 2010s by a dispute over the Iranian nuclear program. Finally, in resolution, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed on 18 October 2015 as a binding agreement between the United Nations P5+1, the EU, and Iran, the culmination of 20 months of “arduous” negotiations.
However, since agreeing to the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has expanded its missile programme despite warnings from the United States and European countries. In January 2019, the regime tried unsuccessfully to launch a satellite into space.
The European Union stated, on Monday 4 February 2019, that it is “gravely concerned” about Iran’s ballistic missile activity and called on Tehran to refrain from missile launches which are in violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, as well as from the development of any missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
“These activities deepen mistrust and contribute to regional instability. The Council calls on Iran to take all the necessary measures to fully respect all relevant UN Security Council resolutions related to the transfer of missiles and relevant material and technology to state and non-state actors in the region,” the European Council said in their statement.
Moreover, on Feb 2019 For the first time since 2015, the European Union opted to impose sanctions on Iran. More precisely, the EU agreed to register one deputy minister of the Iranian intelligence organization, Ettela’at, and two Ettela’at members onto its blacklist. The sanction comes as a retaliation for the two failed attacks of last year in France and Denmark, which were planned to strike members of the opposition to the Iranian regime, the MEK. Not only that, but the Dutch government is convinced that Tehran is also behind two murders that took place in the Netherlands in 2015 and 2017. These murders also targeted opponents of the Iranian regime. On 31 January 2019, Germany, France, and the UK set up a payment channel with Iran called INSTEX, to help continue trade and circumvent US sanctions. Washington has cautioned the EU nations against such actions.
However, the rifts and power struggles inside Iran have left no chances for Iran to accept the INSTEX, On Thursday 25 March 2019, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed the trade mechanism launched by European countries to bypass renewed US sanctions as a “bitter joke” and said Europe could not be trusted.
“This financial channel they recently set up resembles a joke, a bitter joke,” Khamenei told a thousand-strong congregation in a televised address at a shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad, where he speaks every year to mark the Iranian New Year.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, 19 March 2019, a spokesperson from customer services of Iran’s Mahan Air said the airline had been forced to cancel its Paris flights over “sanctions”, some weeks after Germany banned the same airline.
Germany imposed its ban on Mahan in January, with the German foreign ministry saying this was necessary to protect Berlin’s “foreign and security policy interests”.
Mahan Air was blacklisted by the US in 2011, as Washington said the carrier was providing technical and material support to an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards known as the Quds Force.
Industry experts said that there was evidence that Iranian hackers were behind the December 2018 Shamoon cyber-attacks on oil and gas companies in the Gulf and Europe.
Alister Shepherd, Middle East and Africa director for Mandiant at FireEye, told Gulf News that it is the same Shamoon malware which wreaked havoc a few years ago. In 2012, Shamoon crippled the hard drives of tens of thousands of computers at Saudi Aramco and Qatar’s RasGas. An Iranian hacker group claimed responsibility.
And a Reuters Special Report published in November 2018 disclosed that Iranian hackers have been behind several cyber-attacks and online disinformation campaigns in recent years as the country tries to strengthen its clout in the Middle East and beyond.
Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Islamic revolutionary guard’s corps (IRGC), have been dedicated to export terrorism abroad. Despite the efforts of the EU and US during past years, Iran has never terminated its support for terrorist organizations especially in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq.
Indeed, following the JOCPA over Iran’s nuclear program in 2015, the IRGC became even more aggressive in supporting terrorist proxies in those countries. Now with the designation of IRGC as a “terror Group” by Trump administration. Nonetheless, this approach is short-sighted to think that this designation may provoke Iran to target EU interest, instead of by not supporting this designation we give Iran a pass to target western interest.
To address this catalog of ills, the countries of the European Union should now also impose sanctions on the individuals and groups involved in these incidents.
Over and above all this, Europe should sit up and take notice that the protests and strike action ongoing across Iran since the end of 2017, by teachers, labourers, students, truck drivers and so many more, already a game-changer from the 2015 situation, has recently moved to a whole new level as the people of Iran protest the inflation, corruption, and mismanagement that has played such a major role in bringing devastating flash floods to their homeland, affecting 30 provinces and with a current death toll of over 200.
It seems European governments and institutions would be wise at this point to discontinue their current dialogue with Tehran while they undertake a full and in-depth review of their approach toward Iran. Full transparency and accurate information made available to the public would be an essential requirement
*Perviz S. Khazai is a law graduate and former Apprentice diplomat in French Ministry of Foreign Affairs- in IIAP(ENA) Paris, in United Nations in Geneva- In Red Cross International- In Council of Europe in Strasbourg and International Court of Justice in The Hague 1969-1971. He served as an international law expert of foreign affairs in Tehran 1976-1979. He served as the head of the mission and acting ambassador in Norway and Sweden in 1979-1982. He is now representative of NCRI in northern Europe.