In June 2018, agents of the Iranian regime attempted to carry out a terrorist attack near Paris. In November 2020 the mastermind of that plot finally went on trial alongside his three known accomplices, following a two and a half year investigation. Earlier this month, a Belgian court handed down guilty verdicts for all four and sentenced the principal defendant, Assadollah Assadi, to 20 years in prison.
No doubt some Western policymakers are eager to think of this matter as settled and start the business as usual with the Iranian regime. But nothing could be further from the truth. Assadi’s prosecution revealed to the entire world that there is an undercurrent of Iranian terrorism which will continue to threaten Europe and the United States for as long as it remains in place. More than that, it revealed further details about the Iranian regime’s ideological commitment to that terrorism, which threatens to preserve at least some aspects of that threat for as long as the ruling system remains in place.
In the wake of Assadi’s conviction, it is essential that the European Union and the entire international community reevaluates their approach to dealing with the Iranian regime and considers new measures that could be employed to mitigate the terrorist threat in the short term and uproot it over the long term.
It is unfortunate that the EU took the opposite direction and on February 4, Josep Borell, EU’s head of External Actions emphasized the EU’s intention of continuing “maximum diplomacy” strategy with the terrorist regime in Tehran.
Borell went even further and it was announced that he is going to participate in an online “Europe-Iran Business Forum” with the Iranian regime’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, which will be held on March 1-3. This event was canceled in December at the very last moment due to Ruhollah Zam’s execution, a French resident.
Turning a blind eye to Zarif’s role in Assadi’s terrorism case in Europe and Iran’s violation of human rights is like feeding the crocodile and the consequences will be more of regime’s terrorism in Europe and violation of human rights in Iran.
But fortunately, there are many policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic who have promoted assertive policies and also endorsed international support for a pro-democracy Resistance movement that is challenging the Iranian regime at home. Recently, more than 100 members of the US House of Representatives introduced a resolution in favor of both these measures. This was preceded by multiple statements from European politicians who believe that, at a minimum, diplomatic and trade ties with the Iranian regime should be downgraded or severed pending major changes in the regime’s behavior.
One statement prepared by the International Committee in Search of Justice declared that any future normalization of relations should be contingent upon Iran “packing-up its terrorist apparatus in Europe and giving assurances that it will never engage in terrorism in Europe again.”
A bipartisan resolution co-signed by 113 members of the United States House of Representative, calling for a democratic, non-nuclear, and secular #Iran, and condemning the regime’s state-sponsored #terrorism#NoImpunity4Mullahs
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) February 13, 2021
But the statement evoked very little confidence in the prospect of Iran taking such steps on its own. Instead, it urged active and far-reaching investigations of Iranian embassies and cultural institutions, and it recognized Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, ostensibly one of Iran’s most moderate and Western-friendly figures, of being culpable for the 2018 terror plot, insofar as it was channeled through the diplomatic network in which he is the topmost official.
The statement from American congressmen demonstrated much the same sentiment while urging broad-based cooperation in holding Zarif and other leading figures accountable for “breaching diplomatic privileges.” It also emphasized that such breaches are only one category of the “malign activities” that are a constant feature of the Iranian regime and are unlikely to diminish unless they are made the targets of coordinated pressure from the international community.
However, the American resolution also went a step further by suggesting that the international community could also seek out allies inside Iran to help them in changing the very nature of that country’s government. Toward that end, the resolution declares that its signers “stand with the people of Iran” and expect Western governments to ultimately recognize “the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle to establish a democratic, secular and nonnuclear Republic of Iran.”
That resolution was right to simultaneously address the issue of terrorist plots like Assadi’s and the issue of the Iranian regime’s conflict with an organized Resistance movement. This was made clear by essential details of the terror plot including its primary designated target.
When he met with two co-conspirators in Luxembourg prior to the 2018 Free Iran rally, Assadi instructed them to place the bomb as close as possible to the event’s keynote speaker, Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). About six months prior to that event, the NCRI’s main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI – MEK), had been credited with leading a spontaneous nationwide uprising against the clerical regime.
That uprising was recognized as perhaps the greatest single challenge to the ruling system since the 1980s, but it was surpassed less than two years later in November 2019, when residents of nearly 200 cities and towns took part in another uprising featuring many of the same anti-government slogans and endorsements of regime change as had defined the previous movement. The dual uprisings stand as a testament to the momentum that builds from the Iranian Resistance when Tehran fails in its efforts to attack the roots of organized opposition.
At the same time, the domestic response to the latter uprising demonstrates just how far the Iranian regime is willing to go in its attempt to stamp out dissent. It has been estimated that in a matter of only days during November 2019, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) killed around 1,500 peaceful protesters. But this violence is not unique to Tehran’s domestic affairs, and the Assadi trial went a long way toward proving it. Explosives experts and Western attendees at the Free Iran rally testified during those proceedings that if Assadi’s bomb had been detonated as planned, the casualties would have surely been in the hundreds, if not in quadruple digits.
This all goes to show that it is incumbent upon Western governments to take the threat of Iranian violence seriously both for the sake of their own security and for the sake of the Iranian people. These two objectives go hand-in-hand because inevitably if the Iranian regime fails to crackdown on dissent in one venue it will turn its attention to the other. Furthermore, it is only by protecting the Iranian people in their fight for a democratic future that the EU and the US can hope to permanently remove the Iranian terror threat from the world.
For these reasons, Western governments should pay close attention to the recommendations that have already been offered by those within their own ranks who support a more assertive posture toward the Iranian regime. No one should be permitted to hold onto the notion that issues related to Iranian terrorism and political violence are meaningfully resolved now that Assadollah Assadi is behind bars. Instead, his conviction must be recognized as merely a stepping stone toward much broader changes towards the Iranian regime and its foreign minister.