It was reported on Wednesday that a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had made concrete efforts to arrange the assassination of former White House national security advisor John Bolton. Though charges have been filed against him in the US, Shahram Poursafi currently remains at large.
While there may be only a slim chance of Poursafi coming within reach of US law enforcement now, there are other measures that the US and the entire international community can and should take to prevent the further proliferation of such terrorist threats. All such measures start with one essential step: holding the entire Iranian regime accountable for its operatives’ actions throughout the world.
Prior reports indicate that John Bolton has been subject to threats against his life for more than two years. The same is true of various other former US officials, and many of those threats have been communicated in public by leading Iranian officials, including the regime’s president Ebrahim Raisi.
In a January speech boosted by the IRGC-linked Fars News Agency, Raisi called for the prosecution of those responsible for the 2020 drone strike that killed IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. But after mentioning former US President Donald Trump and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by name, Raisi went on to suggest that if they did not face trial in an Islamic court, the principle of qisas, or “retribution in kind” should be imposed by default and “God’s judgment should be carried out against them.”
A year earlier, upon the first anniversary of Soleimani’s killing and several months before ascending to the presidency, then-judiciary chief Raisi made an explicit threat. “The enemy should wait for harsh revenge,” he said before labeling Iranian regime’s terrorist proxies as “resistance forces” and declaring that “they will determine when and where to take [Soleimani’s] revenge… Those who played a part in this crime will have no safety in any place around the globe. The resistance forces have this iron will to take revenge.”
Raisi’s resulting installation as president of the Iranian regime has been cited by the regime’s critics as one of the clearest examples to date of that regime’s impunity and unshakeable commitment to the worst of its many malign activities. That interpretation has been reinforced ever since by rising numbers of executions and politically-motivated arrests, a general worsening of the country’s climate of repression, and new instances of Western nationals being taken hostage and used as bargaining chips by Iranian authorities.
Poursafi’s attempt to recruit and coordinate assassins inside the US is a direct consequence of the West’s appeasement policy and the resulting sense that if Tehran fails to carry out a terrorist attack in the West, it is usually free to simply try again.
In 2018, a former Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi was arrested in connection with a failed plot to set off explosives at a gathering of Iranian expatriates that had been organized near Paris by, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Assadi was eventually sentenced by a Belgian court to 20 years in prison for conspiring to commit terrorism and murder, but just last month the Belgian parliament approved a treaty which detractors fear will lead to his release in a prisoner swap.
Even if that swap doesn’t go through, some damage will have been done by its mere consideration. But then again, many critics view Western powers as having already failed the test presented to them by the 2018 terror plot, because they declined to pursue higher level accountability despite the Belgian court determining that orders for that attack had come from the highest officials in the Iranian regime.
The revelation of Bolton’s targeting by an IRGC operative now presents the US in particular with a new challenge. Its decisions in the coming days will determine whether it compounds the prior failures of Belgium and the European Union or whether it sends Tehran a message of strength for once, in order to demonstrate that Tehran cannot get away with terrorist plots on Western soil just because no one was ultimately killed by them.
Soon the time will come for serious discussions about how to pursue accountability for the regime, but first the US must definitively resolve to disavow appeasement and friendly relations with a terrorist state. It can start by barring Ebrahim Raisi from next month’s UN General Assembly.
“IRGC plot to assassinate Amb. John Bolton is alarming. Regime’s president was involved in the massacre of political prisoners & 1,500 protesters. Now, he is embarking on assassinating foreign politicians. Raisi must not enter the US & UN. He must be arrested & prosecuted,” tweeted Mohammad Mohaddessin, Chairman of the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) Foreign Affairs Commission.
IRGC plot to assassinate @AmbJohnBolton is alarming. Regime’s president was involved in the massacre of political prisoners &1500 protesters. Now, he is embarking on assassinating foreign politicians. Raisi must not enter the US&UN. He must be arrested &prosecuted #NoVisa4Raisi
— Mohammad Mohaddessin (@Mohaddessin) August 10, 2022