Over the past several months, the Iranian opposition has hosted several online conferences, with participation from political dignitaries in the US, Britain, the European Union, and elsewhere. Many of these have served as prominent venues for criticizing current Western policies toward Iran’s theocratic dictatorship. And some of those have focused even more narrowly on Western responses to an apparently escalating threat of Iranian terrorism.
This was the case with one conference that was held on Thursday, streaming to viewers on both sides of the Atlantic. Speeches from current and former Western lawmakers. This keynote speaker of this event was Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). In addition to Mrs. Rajavi, other officials of the NCRI attended this conference.
Mohammad Mohaddessin, the chairman of the NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee, explained that the Iranian regime had plotted attacks on Mrs. Rajavi at least two venues in 2018 because this was “its main plan to neutralize the uprisings” that had begun at the end of the previous year.
In December 2017, a protest began in the city of Mashhad which was focused on the Iranian regime’s economic mismanagement but inspired protests with a much broader political message in dozens of other cities and towns. The resulting nationwide uprising was arguably the most significant protest movement to emerge in Iran since the first confrontations between the regime and the organized democratic opposition in the early 1980s.
The January 2018 uprising featured slogans that called for the ouster of all leading regime officials and expressed distaste for both the “hardline” and the “reformist” factions of the regime. It also included participation from a diverse array of Iranian communities and demographics, including residents of poor rural towns who, the regime had been presenting as its supporters. That assumption was proven wrong by the uprising, and it dramatically moved the needle on a gauge of the Iranian people’s prospects for overturning their existing government.
Those prospects have grown ever since, even as the regime’s authorities have vigorously cracked down on the dissent that was brought to the forefront of society in January 2018. The regime’s initial crackdown killed dozens of peaceful protesters and led to thousands of arrests. Yet the uprising itself inspired a wide range of localized demonstrations lasting throughout that year.
It was apparent in response to those persistent demonstrations that the Iranian regime set out to strike a death blow against the NCRI and its main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK). The first attempt came around the time of the Iranian New Year celebration, Nowruz, in March 2018. But before anything could happen, authorities in Albania arrested Iranian operatives who were planning to attack the MEK’s local compound, a residence for around 3,000 members.
The next attempt was even bolder than the plot in Albania. In June 2018, two Iranian operatives attempted to travel from Belgium to France while carrying a detonator and 500 grams of highly explosive material. Their intended target was the NCRI’s annual rally in support of regime change and democratic governance, held in the Paris suburb of Villepinte. But this plot, too, was disrupted by European authorities, leading to the arrest of the two would-be bombers, another accomplice, and one of the regime’s terrorist-diplomats who was determined to be the mastermind.
That terrorist-diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, goes on trial on November 27 in Belgium, where he will be the first high-ranking Iranian diplomat to face accountability for the regime’s longstanding terrorist activities. This looming court date was in focus of Thursday’s conference, and for other such events in prior months. This is as it should be, since the Assadi trial represents a unique opportunity to adjust Western policies toward the Iranian regime while the rationale for that adjustment is in clear view for the international community.
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) October 19, 2020
Speaking for the European Union as a whole, former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said in Thursday’s conference, “The case reveals volumes about the nature of the Iranian theocracy. We cannot wait any longer to implement a strategy of maximum pressure against this regime of assassins. The regime must understand that it will pay a heavy price.”
Renowned human rights lawyer William Bourdon endorsed this view and added that in addition to Assadi and the three agents he’d attempted to dispatch to France, “the Iranian regime itself” will effectively be sitting in the courtroom on November 27. However, neither he nor any other participant in Thursday’s conference expressed absolute confidence in the idea of Belgium or its allies coming to the right conclusion.
Their doubts stem from a shared perception that Western policy toward Iran has been overwhelmingly conciliatory throughout the four decades the mullahs’ regime has been in power. Mrs. Rajavi in describing the situation said: “The policy of appeasement has greatly emboldened the regime over the past 40 years,” she said, implying that the trend would actually accelerate if the nations of Europe did not decide to change course around the time of the trial.
For the Iranian Resistance and people, the 2018 terror plots and their aftermath are clear symbols of the flaws in longstanding Western policy. And this is further underscored by the simple fact that Assadi stands to be the only terrorist-diplomat to face charges over his connection to terrorism. He is certainly not the first to be implicated, but European leaders have declined to pursue other cases, for fear of undermining their relations with a regime that many believed to be the only viable Iranian government.
Although recent uprisings in Iran have clearly given Tehran new incentive to lash out at its opponents inside Western territory, they have also gone a long way toward countering Western assumptions about Iran’s domestic affairs. Even Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged at the height of the 2018 uprising that the MEK had played a leading role in organizing protests all across the country. Since then, regime officials have repeatedly warned of the MEK’s enduring influence, effectively admitting that it is a serious challenge to the mullahs’ hold on power.
This point is, of course, further underscored by the regime’s terror plots in Europe, and especially by the unprecedented risks involved in putting at least one such plot directly in the hands of a high-ranking diplomat. Assadi’s trial should clearly signal that the risk is not paying off, but for this is by no means enough.
“The case reveals volumes about the nature of the Iranian theocracy,” said former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi. “We cannot wait any longer to implement a strategy of maximum pressure against this regime of assassins. The regime must understand that it will pay a heavy price.”
Mrs. Rajavi outlined just what that price might be. The NCRI president-elect urged European lawmakers to designate the regime’s institutions, such as the Revolutionary Guards, as terrorist groups, prosecute other agents of the regime, and close down Iranian embassies like the one through which Assadi hatched his plot. “These are indispensable to ensure the security of Europe, and especially the security of Iranian refugees and dissidents,” Mrs. Rajavi said, adding, “This will bring about the friendship and support of the Iranian people.”