By Hamid Enayat
On July 15, 2020, the trial of Assadi, an Iranian diplomat, and three other terrorists began in Antwerp, Belgium. By thwarting that terrorist plot, Belgian police foiled perhaps one of the century’s most significant terrorist plots, even bigger than Bataklan in Paris. The plot targeted Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian opposition leader, pro-Rajavi European politicians, and many American figures, including Giuliani, a Trump legal advisor. They were all scheduled to attend an Iranian opposition rally in Villepinte, Paris, along with tens of thousands of Iranians and supporters.
This trial is unprecedented because it is the first time a sitting diplomat has been arrested and charged with committing a terrorist act. Why did the Iranian regime fully involve one of its “diplomats” to hand over a bomb to the perpetrators for this assassination?
Why was this action, which could have been accomplished with someone else of lower rank as they have done before, not planned to avoid endangering the entire status of the regime’s diplomatic apparatus?
There is also unambiguous evidence that the Iranian regime could have paid a high price for this colossal terrorist plot. At the rally of tens of thousands of people and hundreds of dignitaries from five continents, the blast could have caused far more casualties than the Paris Batakan terrorist attack. So why facing far more consequences?
The answer to these questions is simple. The regime needed to guarantee its existence, and the only way for it was to get rid of the organized opposition. As such, the operation was undoubtedly calculated and approved at the highest level of the Iranian regime. There is also a clear connection between the intended terrorist action and the visit by Rouhani and Zarif’s trip to Vienna and then to Switzerland on the same day of the alleged conspiracy. Had the operation been successful, they could have projected a power position in talks with their foreign interlocutors.
However, the capture of their diplomat limited their ability to deny their connection to this thwarted plot.
The Background of This Conspiracy
After the uprising in January 2018, Khamenei spoke of the triangle that commanded the uprising. One side of this triangle is the United States, which has conspired against the Iranian regime in the past. On the other side, Saudi Arabia was financing the uprising. The third side is the Mujahideen, the regime’s sworn enemies, seen as the uprising’s leaders. The Supreme Leader used the word “revenge” to describe the regime’s reaction to the MEK’s actions.
Following Khamenei’s speech, Shamkhani, the secretary of the regime’s security council, said that “the Mujahideen will be knocked back from where they cannot imagine.” In a mysterious tweet, Hesamaldin Ashena, who was then deputy Minister of Indigence and now a special adviser to Rohani, even disclosed the operation’s details. He stated the target in this operation is opposition leader Maryam Rajavi.
Alternative or Damocle‘s sword hanging over the head of the regime
The Iranian regime is well aware that if there is no credible alternative, no matter how many different street protests against the regime occur, it will not be threatened with overthrow.
The Iranian regime, which was shaken and severely destabilized after the 2017 and 2019 uprisings, claimed that the Mujahedeen had played a significant role in leading these uprisings. The Iranian regime wants to secure their regime from overthrow and get rid of Damocles’ sword, always hanging on their heads. This plot targeted the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, meant to break that sword, confidently for good.
The regime’s leadership recognized their limited options for maintaining control over Iran and the region if the MEK continued to build support within Iran and internationally. This plot was strategic and had it succeeded, the regime would have benefited in many different ways, and it could have repositioned them internationally as well.
With such strategic importance, the regime involved its Foreign Ministry in this operation. At various times in the past, the regime sent assassins with diplomatic passports to different countries, such as the assassination of Ghassemlou in Austria and the assassination of four Kurds in Mykonos, Germany, or the assassination of Naghdi, an Iranian opponent in Italy. This plot was not left to fake or lower rank diplomats due to its strategic importance but involved their legitimate diplomatic apparatus with the lowers possible rank.
Trip of Zarif and Rohani on the same day of the plot to Austria and then to Switzerland
Zarif wrote in his tweet on July 2, 2018, “How convenient at the same time as our presidential trip to Europe, an operation is disclosed, and its ‘agents’ are arrested.” It is too naive to assume that Zarif or Rouhani were unaware of their diplomat’s involvement in the operation. Zarif’s tweet was, in fact, the first move by the regime to avoid responsibility internationally.
If the regime had succeeded in this terrorist act, it would have guaranteed its survival for a historical period despite its harmful political and diplomatic consequences. They would also have the means to continue their efforts to build influence and control throughout the region.