On January 22, 2021, a Belgian court is expected to return a verdict in the case against an Iranian diplomat and three co-conspirators in a thwarted 2018 bomb plot. The incident is the first example of such a diplomat before prosecuted on the basis of alleged ties to Iran terrorism.
There is little doubt that he will be convicted, given that the prosecution has provided clear details about how the principal defendant, Assadollah Assadi, used his diplomatic passport in order to bypass security screening and smuggle explosives into Europe. He then handed the bomb to an Iranian-Belgian couple with instructions to transport it to the “Free Iran” gathering that was taking place on June 30, 2018, just outside of Paris.
Had this plot not been thwarted, it would have surely resulted in hundreds of casualties. And given that the primary target was the Iranian Opposition leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, it is also very likely that those casualties would have included some of the high-profile American and European dignitaries who were seated nearest to her throughout the event.
The details of the plot should have prompted the European Union to revise its Iran policy in the immediate aftermath of Assadi’s arrest. The absence of this response is arguably a testament to how pre-occupied the EU and its member states have been with shoring up the Iran nuclear deal. At the same time, the pending verdict, therefore, represents an opportunity for Western policy apparatus to respond to the situation as they should have in the first place.
In doing so, Europeans must understand that they are responding to much more than just the one terror plot that is being addressed by the Belgian legal system. The unraveling of that plot helped to reveal important details about the nature of Iran’s terror apparatus and about its continued operation during the supposedly moderate era that began with the regime’s President Hassan Rouhani’s election in 2013.
In the immediate aftermath of Assadi’s arrest, several persons close to the case acknowledged that Iran’s embassies and consulates are replete with regime intelligence operatives. Assadollah Assadi was the third counselor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna until the moment of his arrest. And while he is presently the only diplomat to be prosecuted for his actions on behalf of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, he is certainly not the only one to have such actions exposed. In 2018 alone, several Iranian diplomats were expelled from Europe in connection with terror plots in Albania and Denmark, as well as the plot targeting France.
The effort to bomb the Free Iran rally was part of a larger phenomenon and one that affirms the need for the EU to hold Tehran accountable for these and other threats.
Even if European governments were absolutely confident about their security services’ ability to repel any and all Iranian threats at home, there will still be lives put at risk by Iranian impunity. The most recent case was Ruhollah Zam, a French resident who was executed on trumped-up charges earlier this month.
Stories like this underscore the regime’s willingness to find alternative outlets for its aggression against Western entities. And that in turn should raise concern among all Western policymakers about the dangers that may be looming while tensions with the regime continue to escalate. If they do respond this way, some of those policymakers will be tempted to look to their relationships with the so-called “moderate” Iranian officials like Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, as a means of defusing those tensions. This would be a folly, and indeed it has been the basis for Western policies of appeasement for the better part of four decades.
During the decision-making process at the Supreme National Security Council, Zarif was directly aware of the two plots and his diplomats were directly involved in the terrorist operations. #ExpelIranDiplomatTerrorists pic.twitter.com/rn17t7ntPz
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) December 19, 2020
Zarif is well-practiced at smiling in the faces of his Western counterparts and projecting the image of an Islamist regime that is always on the verge of reform. But as the nation’s top diplomat, Zarif is the overseer of those figures, like Assadollah Assadi, who have abused their positions to attack Iranian advocates for democracy and to threaten the lives of Western nationals. He cannot be treated in the same way as Europe would treat any other foreign dignitary.
The U.S. has already imposed sanctions on Iran’s Foreign Minister, as well as other figures, noting in the process that Zarif’s function is more like that of a “propaganda minister.”
After Assadi’s trial, the time has come for the EU to stop appeasement police and adopt a decisive policy towards the Iranian regime and designate Zarif as a “propaganda minister” who has been facilitating the regime’s terrorism in Europe.