By: Alejo Vidal Quadras
It was recently reported that in January the US National Security Agency intercepted communications pointing to an Iranian terror plot that aimed to kill the Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army. The planning had reportedly been undertaken by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and was to rely on one or more operatives inside the United States to detonate explosives at a military base in Washington. Now that it has been exposed, that particular threat has presumably evaporated, but the underlying reality of Iran-backed terrorism is undiminished and will remain that way until all major Western powers see fit to address it in a comprehensive way.
Some policymakers are sure to downplay that threat by suggesting that the January plot was an outlier and a result of unique circumstances that the international community can address without confronting the Iranian regime directly. The IRGC’s chatter supposedly characterized the plot against Fort McNair and General Joseph Martin as part of an effort to get revenge on the US for the killing, one year earlier, of Qassem Soleimani. The commander of the IRGC’s special forces, the Quds Force, was one of the Iranian regime’s most brutal figures on account of the role he had played in killings in Syria, Iraq, and the whole Middle East region.
The terror plots by the Iranian regime are not a new phenomenon, but in recent years the regime had been using its officials to carry them out. One only needs to look back to 2018 to see that extremely provocative terror operations were a familiar feature of the Iranian regime.
In March of that year, Iranian operatives were discovered plotting to use a truck bomb to attack a compound in Albania that is maintained by exiled members of Iran’s leading pro-democracy opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK). The incident led to two Iranian diplomats being expelled from the country, but no other consequences were imposed upon the regime or its representatives. Just over three months later, another Iranian diplomat, this one working out of the regime’s embassy in Vienna, was arrested in connection with a bomb plot targeting the National Council of Resistance of Iran in France.
The Alliance for Public Awareness, an organization representing Iranian communities all across Europe, recently sent a letter to the president of the European Commission which described that plot as having had the potential to be “one of the bloodiest terrorist events in European history.” Fortunately, the plot was thwarted through the cooperation of multiple European law enforcement agencies. But this cannot be allowed to diminish the significance of the threat and its intention, which was shocking in many different ways.
The explosive device that was confiscated from two of the diplomat’s fellow operatives was powerful enough to kill hundreds of people in the densely-packed venue hosting the NCRI’s Free Iran rally. A resulting stampede could have raised that death toll even further. And given that the main target was NCRI’s President-elect Maryam Rajavi, there is little doubt that the list of fatalities would have included other people in the event’s VIP section, including dozens of European lawmakers, scholars, and experts on human rights and foreign affairs.
The danger of that collateral damage was well-known in advance, and investigations into the plot made it absolutely clear that the diplomat at the head of it, Assadollah Assadi, was acting not on his own initiative but under orders from the highest levels within the Iranian regime.
Unfortunately, the EU turned a blind eye to Assadi’s conviction. In February 2021, the International Committee in Search of Justice released a statement condemning the European silence, and I said, “The silence of the European External Action Service and their blatant attempts to appease this terrorist regime are a disgrace and place EU citizens at risk from future attacks.”
Due to many years of an appeasement policy, all the Western nations share responsibility for emboldening Iran’s recent terrorist plots by never truly holding the regime accountable for its prior actions. This must be rectified immediately and comprehensively with coordinated sanctions and diplomatic pressure, or else that chatter that the NSA picked up in January will continue repeating until disaster strikes.
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)