The Islamic Republic of Iran is waging an assassination campaign in Europe to silence its critics and pressure European governments to adopt conciliatory measures. The uptick should serve as a wakeup call. Amid popular unrest in Iran and the possibility of a “snapback” of UN sanctions, violence has become an even more attractive tool for a desperate regime. European governments are afraid to get tough on the Islamic Republic, lest they jeopardize the 2015 nuclear deal, yet passivity only encourages more violence.
Europe has long been an unsafe place for Iranian dissidents and opposition figures. The clerical regime has executed more than 60 assassination operations since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
Former Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar was murdered in Paris in 1991. Last year, opposition journalist Ruhollah Zam was lured from his hideaway in Paris to Iraq and arrested by regime intelligence agents. Zam currently faces execution in Iran. And just last month, Sadegh Zarza, a 64-year-old former member of the leadership of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, barely survived an assassination attempt in the Netherlands. Zarza’s brother Taher told the Dutch paper Leeuwarden Courant that Sadegh suffered numerous stab wounds to his chest, stomach, neck, and head.
Also in June, Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a 40-year-old Norwegian Iranian who chaired the Norwegian-Iranian Friendship Association, received a seven-year prison sentence in Denmark for his involvement in a plot to murder an Iranian-Arab dissident in that country. Likewise, the Dutch government last year accused Iran’s regime of assassinating two Iranian dissidents in the Netherlands.
The Dutch murders, coupled with Tehran’s plot to bomb a 2018 Iranian exile conference in Paris, did rouse a European response, but it consisted of no more than tame penalties on Khamenei’s regime: Brussels froze the assets of an Iranian intelligence unit and two of its employees.
This timidity is a longstanding European habit. Its leaders are more concerned about protecting the nearly dead 2015 nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, than punishing the regime for terror attacks on European soil. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government even failed to punish the regime for its recruitment of a Pakistani man for espionage and possible assassination attempts on behalf of Iran’s Qods Force − a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. The Qods Force agent was reportedly scouting Jewish targets in Germany and France for future attacks.
Making matters worse, Merkel’s government has provided refuge to some of the Islamic Republic’s most violent human rights abusers. Iranian cleric and former judge Gholamreza Mansouri, fearing arrest after being charged with corruption in Tehran, reportedly sought shelter in an infamous Hanover clinic, which at one time hosted another top human rights abuser, the now deceased former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi. Mansouri, known for imprisoning and torturing journalists, later surfaced in Bucharest, Romania, where he was found dead, most likely pushed out of his hotel window by regime agents.
Other current and former regime officials roam Europe freely, often maintaining homes in major cities. Ata’ollah Mohajerani, a former minister of culture and Islamic guidance who once defended the religious death sentence on Salman Rushdie, resides in London and is a frequent commentator for BBC Persian. Italy is reported to be a major source of multi-entry visas for regime officials.
How can Europe force the Islamic Republic to rethink its tactics? First, in response to regime assassinations and terrorism, the European Union (EU) and individual member states should suspend diplomatic relations with the regime and withdraw their ambassadors from Tehran. Furthermore, Iranian ambassadors should be expelled from European capitals. In addition, the EU and its member states should impose sanctions against the regime for its assassination campaign and gross human rights abuses. Lebanese Hezbollah, the regime’s terror proxy, should also be banned by all European countries.
One might object that cutting lines of communication to Tehran will only make it harder to resolve tensions. Yet nearly forty years of European diplomacy with various regime presidents has not curtailed Iranian state-sponsored terrorism. After all, Berlin prosecutors accused the late Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khamenei of ordering the murders of Iranian Kurdish dissidents in the West Berlin restaurant Mykonos in 1992. After Mykonos many European countries broke off relations with Tehran. The ultimate perpetrators of the assassination, including former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian, remain at large. If the regime cannot respect the most basic norms of international politics, such as refraining from violence against civilians on foreign soil, then diplomacy serves little purpose but to make additional concessions.
Without European pressure, the Islamic Republic will continue its terror and assassination campaign. A lack of European punishment may even induce the regime to conduct mass casualty attacks on European soil; Hezbollah has a history of terrorist bombings in several European countries, including France and most recently Bulgaria. Ignoring the Islamic Republic’s terrorism is likely to make the problem worse than ever before.