Over the course of 2018, at least four Iranian terrorist plots were exposed on Western soil.
In March, operatives were arrested in Albania while planning an attack on the local residence of more than 2,000 exiled members of the leading Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojadhedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). In June, multiple European authorities disrupted a plot to set off explosives at a Paris gathering organized by the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran led by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. Had the plot been successful, there is no telling how many of the 100,000 attendees might have been killed, or whether the death toll would have included any of the hundreds of high-profile political dignitaries who visited from around the world.
Not long after that incident, it was revealed that one Iranian citizen and one American of Iranian origin had been indicted in the United States for spying on behalf of the Islamic Republic. The criminal complaint specified that MEK activists had been major targets and that if the spying had continued it would have likely led to terrorist attacks inside the US.
Finally, in October, Danish authorities announced the arrest of a would-be assassin who had been dispatched by Tehran to eliminate opposition activists living there. This led to a prominent call to action by the government of Denmark, thus putting long-overdue pressure on the European Union to take the growing Iranian terror threat seriously. Earlier, after an in-depth investigation into the Paris plot, the French government imposed unilateral sanctions on the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and its known operatives. This was unquestionably the right course of action.
Dissidents have not been the sole targets of Tehran’s terror plots. Matteo Salvini, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior of Italy recently underscored the terrorist nature of the Lebanese Hezbollah. Hezbollah, having been established and funded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, acts as aterror arm of the Iranian regime throughout the world, and has carried out operations in Europe and Latin America over the course ofmore than three decades.
It is perhaps difficult to understand why the EU has been so hesitant to follow suit. Part of the explanation no doubt involves simple, short-sighted greed. Many European nations and European-headquartered businesses are eager to retain access to Iranian oil and relatively untapped Iranian markets. Italy and Spain, for instance, have vigorously resisted the Danish calls to action, as well as efforts by France, Germany, and the UK to penalize Iran for clear violations of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon the Islamic Republic to avoid the development and testing of ballistic missiles and other nuclear-capable weapons.
But another factor in Europe’s collective decision-making may be equally influential, if not more so. Iran policy in the West has long been paralyzed by fundamental misconceptions about the political situation inside the Islamic Republic. Policymakers tend to assume that the theocratic regime is stable and that any efforts to disrupt its hold on power would either be ineffectual or actually create more problems than they solve. But in reality, the regime has grown more vulnerable year after year, and this fact is growing more and more difficult for the world to ignore.
This Saturday, Iranian communities in 50 locations across the globe will be working in tandem to bring more attention to the opportunities that exist for transformative change in their homeland. Pro-democracy activists will gather simultaneously to participate in an international conference focused on Iranian terror plots and the need for firm Western policies to confront them.
Notably, the events take place just ahead of the one-year anniversary of a nationwide protest movement that is still ongoing in Iran and that represents perhaps the greatest threat to the theocratic dictatorship in its 40 years. Firm Western policies, including sanctions to undermine the regime’s repressive institutions, will not only punish the mullahs for their belligerence but will also amplify the effects of the protest movement and provide Iran’s domestic activists with an all-important boost in morale.
The nationwide uprising of last December and January gave rise to virtually unprecedented political messaging, which left no doubt about the people’s desire for regime change. Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei were uncharacteristically quick to attribute slogans like “death to the dictator” to the organizing efforts of the MEK. This goes a long way toward explaining the recent surge in Iranian terrorism targeting this and other opposition groups.
With that in mind, it should be clear to the international community that there is an ever greater confrontation coming between the deeply unpopular theocratic regime and the increasingly influential democratic Resistance. Western policymakers have long ignored the presence of such natural allies within Iranian society. But they can no longer do so credibly. And if there is any doubt about the potential for the people’s victory over the regime, one need only witness the ongoing protests that expatriate activists will report upon in detail on Dec 15.
With activists straining Iran’s repressive capabilities both at home and abroad, it is difficult to overstate the potential effects of an assertive, multilateral Western strategy. To decline that strategy under these conditions would be to turn one’s back not only on the security of Western nations but also on the prospect for long-sought democracy in the heart of the Middle East.