A recent Iranian plot to assassinate an Iranian opponent living in Copenhagen came to light when it was disrupted by authorities in Denmark. At least one would-be terrorist was arrested, and the Iranian ambassador was summoned to answer for the incident.
The Danish plot was evidently traceable to Iran’s leadership, as was the terrorist plot foiled by French, Belgian, and German intelligence a month prior. A comprehensive French investigation left no doubt about the Iranian regime’s responsibility for the plan to bomb a rally of Iranian expatriates outside Paris. Two operatives, along with the leading Iranian diplomat in Europe for whom they were working, were caught red-handed.
These latest terror plots demonstrate a pattern of Iranian behavior that goes well beyond the two incidents. Prior to the Paris plot, two operatives were arrested in Albania, where they had been planning an attack on the residence of more than 2,500 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the primary rivals to Iran’s theocratic rulers.
Thankfully, all three recent plots were thwarted, but Western policymakers and foreign governments should not assume that all Iran-backed terrorism will prove unsuccessful. Iranian proxies like Hezbollah have killed hundreds of Western nationals over the years, and other acts of Iranian terror did in fact claim the lives of their targets.
Even when the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 was being negotiated, as well as when that deal was in full force, the regime’s behavior did not change for the better. While the world squarely focused on the nuclear issue, and Tehran basked in the international legitimacy handed to it, the clerical regime stepped up some of the worst of its behaviors. Many human rights experts note that the environment of domestic repression only grew worse in the wake of those negotiations.
The nuclear agreement failed to deliver on its promise of facilitating regional peace and stability, or of encouraging the Iranian regime to moderate. In the wake of at least three major Iranian terror plots in 2018, Western leaders must recognize the futility of attempting to bribe Iran’s leaders into compliance with international standards. A policy of “maximum pressure” is much more likely to compel reasonable behavior.
This is especially true now, given the explosive domestic situation in Iran. As much as it is acting in line with its traditionally hard-line, anti-Western identity, the regime is also reacting to ongoing protests when it reaches far beyond its borders to kill or injure pro-democracy activists. Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, predicted in March that the recurrent uprisings could lead to the people’s victory over a deeply unpopular regime. The regime’s reckless efforts to lash out suggest that it recognizes that same scenario.
It will do no harm for Western powers to adopt that same view and begin exerting serious pressure on the regime in support of the uprisings. The more pressure Tehran faces from abroad, the more it will be compelled to focus on the fight within its borders. The imperative for the EU and the United States to confront the Iranian threat jointly is more pressing than ever. Circumventing U.S. sanctions, as the EU has proposed through “PVC,” is completely out of touch with reality.
There are several key ways that Western powers could and should support the people of Iran, while exerting well-deserved pressure on the ruling regime. First, all Iranian embassies in Europe known to have provided diplomatic cover for terrorism on the continent should be shut down, and all Iranian diplomats engaged in illegal activities expelled. Second, all Iranian agents in Europe and the United States should be prosecuted. Third, all companies and organizations involved in planning, training, facilitating, and funding terrorism should be sanctioned.
Western support for democratic change can be expressed over both traditional and digital media platforms. America is taking action in this regard: In the past two years, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. government agency responsible for international media, is improving and expanding its outreach to Iran’s people. The BBG’s Office of Internet Freedom is also helping millions of Iranians break through tough digital barriers erected by the regime in Iran. The EU should follow the BBG’s lead and take similar actions.
These are concrete steps to rectify the conciliatory Western policies that turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in a bid to encourage moderation. We know that approach produced little more than worsening abuses and an increased threat of Iran’s terrorism extending to the West. Hopefully, they are also concrete steps toward a goal we can all unite behind: an end to Iran’s terrorism, warmongering and domestic repression.