On Tuesday, the United States Department of Justice revealed that two large caches of Iranian weapons had been seized in late 2019 and early 2020 while en route to Yemen via the Arabian Sea. The contents include 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles, and collectively constitute the largest legal forfeiture of Iranian weapons to date. More than a million barrels of Iranian petroleum were also seized within the same timeframe, and were determined to be bound for Venezuela.
In the complaint that led to the forfeiture of that oil, the US Justice Department noted that its sale would have benefited the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an entity designated as a foreign terrorist organization. After it was confiscated and re-sold, the proceeds from that oil was reportedly added to a fund which is used to pay restitution to the victims of terrorism, including the Iranian regime’s state terrorism.
The list of victims in that category is long, owing to incidents like the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon and the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. It grew longer in 2020 when a US federal judge in New York held Iran liable for damages related to the 9/11 terrorist attack, on account of having harbored Al Qaeda operatives and providing them with “critical training and support.” But the list very nearly grew still longer in 2018 as a result of an altogether new terrorist plot, specifically one that would have claimed the lives of lawmakers from across the globe, not to mention large numbers of Iranian expatriates and pro-democracy activists.
The plot in question targeted an international rally that was organized near Paris by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Three Iranian operatives under the command of a high-ranking diplomat named Assadollah Assadi attempted to infiltrate the event with 500 grams of the high explosive TATP, which Assadi had personally transported from Iran to Europe. Fortunately, the device was identified and then safely detonated by Belgian authorities, though one officer standing outside of the secure area was nonetheless slightly wounded. That fact is a testament to the destructive power of the explosives, which experts say would have killed hundreds or perhaps thousands of the approximately 100,000 people in attendance at the Free Iran rally.
Testimony regarding the potential death toll helped to secure the maximum sentence of 20 years for the plot’s mastermind when his trial concluded in Antwerp early this year. His co-conspirators were handed sentences of between 15 and 18 years, as well as being stripped of Belgian citizenship. But although Assadi declined to pursue an appeal after building his defense solely around the assertion of diplomatic immunity, the other three defendants are currently seeking a reduction in their sentences.
The DOJ’s disclosure of Iranian arms smuggling reached the international media only two days before the Belgian court was expected to hear the bomb experts about the impact of the bomb used in the plot. Coincidentally or not, the news of that smuggling underscores the seriousness and persistence of the Iranian terrorist threat, and thus highlights the need for strong measures aimed at confronting it. Commitment to punishing known terrorist operatives is one such measure and impeding the IRGC’s logistical support for terrorist groups on land and at sea is another. But neither of these moves are sufficient on their own, because neither of them addresses the root of the problem.
The orders for an attack on the gathering had come from high in the Iranian regime’s leadership. This was affirmed by Belgian prosecutors, in statements that seemed to hint at the need for accountability extending beyond the trial at hand. The NCRI specifically identified the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and then-President Hassan Rouhani as figures with prominent roles in the Supreme National Security Council, an entity that oversees all of Iran’s foreign activities, including terrorist operations.
Since Assadi’s conviction, the NCRI has been highly critical of Western policymakers for apparently treating the 2018 terror plot as a settled issue. The NCRI has rightly warned that as long as this attitude persists, the Iranian regime will be emboldened to order more such attacks, which might rely on a network of operatives cultivated by Assadi and not yet rooted out across Europe.
Last year’s arms forfeiture should be celebrated. But it was an overstatement on the part of one US DOJ attorney to call it “a resounding blow to the government of Iran and to the criminal networks supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” In order to strike such a blow, Western policymakers will ultimately need to aim for the head and use every available tool to put pressure on Tehran’s criminal leaders over their support of terrorism.