On November 27, the trial will begin in a Belgian court for the Iranian regime’s terrorist- diplomat Assadollah Assadi. The former third counselor of Tehran’s embassy in Vienna who masterminded a terrorist plot in the heart of Europe, which could have left thousands of people dead if it had not been thwarted.
Assadi’s arrest was preceded by that of three Iranian operatives, two of which received an explosive device directly from the terrorist-diplomat. The case as a whole is a sobering reminder of the persistent threat of Iran-backed terrorism. It also highlights the fact that that terrorism may be carried out not only by Iran’s foreign allies and proxies, but also by sleeper cells that have established themselves in target nations, with help from Tehran’s diplomatic infrastructure.
Thus, Western governments’ senses of urgency for a political response to the threat of Tehran should increase. And if the Assadi case alone is not reason enough for this urgency, it should be noted that it was only one of several Iranian terror plots to be uncovered in recent years.
On Thursday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) hosted an online conference to discuss British and European policy in the context of Iranian terrorism. In his remarks to the event, former Member of the European Parliament Struan Stevenson described Assadi’s actions in 2018 as having been approved at the highest levels of the Iranian regime. He also noted that the same was true of an earlier to plot to attack the Albanian compound housing 3,000 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK / PMOI).
“These are not the only terror plots that bear the fingerprint of Zarif,” Stevenson added. “Another regime terrorist was caught in Denmark, two others were expelled from the Netherlands. They have operated in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Turkey.”
.@STRUANSTEVENSON: For 40 years, Iran's regime has left nothing but death in its wake. We should close all of Iran's embassies & expel all their diplomats. Regime leaders should be indicted for crimes against humanity. #ExpelIranDiplomatTerrorists https://t.co/QpTazt06LI
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) October 15, 2020
The participants in Thursday’s conference underlined that this pattern will continue for the foreseeable future unless the international community take more assertive action to prevent it. Many outlined specific proposals for such action, including expanded economic sanctions, terrorist designation for the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), and the closure of the Iranian regime’s embassies like the one through which Assadi organized his bomb plot.
Several participants also condemned the European Union’s appeasement policy toward the Iranian regime, which has emboldened the regime to continue its malign activities. British MP Bob Blackman further explained that those policies have largely been based on “the illusion that moderates will emerge from the theocratic dictatorship” – an illusion that was especially apparent from Western talking points surrounding the 2013 election of the mullahs’ President Hassan Rouhani.
At that time, the regime and its apologists called Rouhani’s “selection,” by the regime’s supreme leader, as a partial vindication of the so-called “moderates.” But in the seven years since Rouhani took office, Iran’s foreign policies have only become a greater source of international concern, while the domestic repression that ended has also increased.
In the final days of 2017, Iran entered into a period of nationwide uprising which would last for weeks and help to popularize slogans that explicitly endorsed the goal of regime change. While that movement was still at its peak, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech in which he acknowledged that the MEK had played a prominent role in the uprising. This admission effectively shattered decades of propaganda regarding the opposition, and laid the groundwork for the foreign terrorist plots that would define much of 2018.
The Assadi-led plot in June of that year was meant to target the annual gathering of the NCRI, attended by upwards of 100,000 participants, including Iranian expatriate activists as well as political dignitaries from Europe, the United States, and much of the world. Some of the participants in Thursday’s video conference had also been present at the 2018 “Free Iran” rally, and might have personally become victims of Iranian terrorism had the plot not been disrupted.
If the EU governments continue appeasing the mullahs’ regime, there would be no end to the demands that the Iranian regime would impose on those governments. Already, EU’s policy of appeasement have instilled such an expectation of impunity in Iran’s leadership that they feel as if they can openly threaten the lives of EU and US citizens and still get away scot free.
This was made clear by Assadi himself in the wake of his arrest. After Tehran failed in its efforts to block his extradition, the terrorist-diplomat reportedly decided that could still escape conviction by simply blackmailing the Belgian government with the threat of more terrorism. Recently-released transcripts of his conversations with investigators show that boasted of Iran’s terrorism throughout the Middle East and said there were armed groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Iran itself that would be watching the prosecution closely, to see whether Belgium would “support them.”
Such threats will only continue to proliferate if the international give Iran the impression that they can pay off. But failure to convict Assadi would be only one way of sending that self-destructive message.
It is long past time for that appeasement to come to an end. The 2018 terror plot should lead to consequences not just for its mastermind but for the entire system that ordered it and approved it. Increased sanctions and diplomatic isolation will send an important message not just to the Iranian regime but also to the people who participated in five uprisings against that regime over the past three years. Their efforts to overturn the theocratic system will surely grow even stronger once it is clear that Tehran no longer enjoys impunity on the world stage.
In this way, assertive policies toward the regime will not only safeguard Western security interests, but will help to promote the long-deferred dream of democracy in the heart of the Middle East.