By: Alejo Vidal-Quadras
As someone who has long recognized and worked to counter the global threat posed by the Iranian regime, I am extremely disappointed that so many of my European colleagues have joined in standing against American efforts to re-impose multilateral sanctions and prevent the expiration of a UN arms embargo in October.
The sanction critics have offered little explanation for why they seem not to share the relevant concerns about advanced weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups. This is exactly what will happen if states like Russia and China are able to freely sell weapons to the Iranian regime, as they intend to.
European governments have no apparent reason to oppose the embargo other than prideful insistence upon preserving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, even though the Iranian regime is no longer abiding by its provisions. What’s more, it might not have been necessary for the embargo to threaten the nuclear deal, if only Britain and France had stood up against Russia and China, to insist that the extension could be achieved without “snapback” of all sanctions.
It is perhaps especially shocking that France would fail to take this step, since it has very recently been in the line of fire of Iranian terrorists. In June 2018, two Iranian operatives were arrested trying to cross the border from Belgium, in possession of 500 grams of high explosive. Had they succeeded in gaining access to the Villepinte convention center near Paris, there is no telling how many of the estimated 100,000 attendees they might have killed or wounded at the annual rally organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
This terror plot was a serious threat to the West not only because the attack was to take place on European soil but also because the prospective targets included dozens of high-profile American and European dignitaries. The NCRI has been growing its base of support among Western politicians and foreign policy experts for many years. Presently, that support occupies a strange space in which it is insufficient to guide European governments to take measures like extending the arms embargo, but is strong enough to make representatives of those governments into targets of Iranian terror.
In some respects this is a new situation and in other respects it isn’t. Of course, the Iranian regime has an ample quantity of American and European blood on its hands as a result of numerous terrorist attacks stretching back to the 1980s, but in the vast majority of cases, these attacks were channeled through Iran’s proxy groups like Hezbollah, allowing the regime to maintain plausible deniability and preserve diplomatic relations with most Western nations.
This was not the case with the June 2018 terror plot. The would-be bombers were an Iranian-Belgian couple in the direct employee of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. More specifically, they were directed by an Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, who was stationed in Vienna at the time of the incident. Assadi was later arrested after traveling to Germany and is now standing trial in Belgium.
In using one of its own diplomats as a terrorist operative, the regime betrayed significant escalation in its conflict with Western adversaries. So it is absolutely shocking to me that Western governments would respond with even more conciliation. That is the only way to interpret the tactic endorsement of the arms embargo’s expiration by Britain and France, at a time when these and other longstanding US allies stand to suffer the worst effects of Iran’s expanded armament.
Even if European policymakers don’t believe that those arms are being distributed to terrorist groups like Hezbollah, the Assadi operation demonstrates that they don’t have to do so in order to pose a threat to Western lives and property. That individual diplomat’s terrorist role could be repeated by any number of other Iranian diplomats stationed throughout the world, or even by entire diplomatic missions. A spokesperson for Belgian police said as much in the wake of the Assadi arrest, noting that virtually all employees of Iran’s consular services work actually for its intelligence services.
Europeans, by aligning themselves with Russia, China, and Iran on the issue of an arms embargo, have embraced escalating danger for themselves, their colleagues, their citizens, and their nations and that escalation is sure to continue as long as the mullahs are still facing serious challenges at home from activists affiliated with the NCRI.
In the wake of two nationwide uprisings against the clerical regime, those challenges appear to be entrenched, making Tehran desperate for shows of strength on the international stage. All Western powers will therefore have to remain very much on guard against new future Iranian regime attacks, most likely until European policymakers adopt assertiveness or until another popular uprising in Iran unseats the terrorist regime to usher in democracy.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice-president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is President of the International Committee In Search of Justice (ISJ)