As Terrorism Trial Looms, the World Should Heed Calls for More Assertive Iran Strategy
Mohammad Sadat Khansari
The Iranian regime’s diplomat terrorist Assadollah Assadi
On Thursday, a politically diverse group of European and American lawmakers joined an online conference organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). While warning of the Iranian regime’s terrorism, the participants of this event urged European government to put a comprehensive, multilateral pressure on the Iranian regime.
The general message is worthy of attention under any circumstances. The event focused on discussing the details and implications of the regime’s foiled 2018 terror.
Had it gone forward; the mullahs’ plot would have involved detonating an explosive device at the NCRI annual “Free Iran” gathering in Paris. Its potential victims included not just lay over 100,000 participants but also NCRI’s President-elect, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi and a wide range of international dignitaries, including many of the same high-profile dignitaries who took part in Thursday’s conference.
The theoretical death toll is highly significant in its own right. But it is made more so by the fact that the individual in charge of the plot was a high-ranking Iranian terrorist-diplomat, who was stationed at the regime’s embassy in Vienna at the time of the rally just outside Paris. That terrorist-diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, hand-delivered the explosive material and detonator to two of his agents, while a third was infiltrating the target venue.
In retrospect, Assadi’s hands-on approach was little surprise, given that he had been identified as the “senior most intelligence officer for Iran in Europe,” according to John Sano, a former deputy director of the National Clandestine Service in the US. Sano’s speech to the NCRI conference also noted that Assadi had “previously spent a considerable amount of time in Iraq, targeting the MEK [and] targeting US military forces in the region.”
The MEK, or People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, has long been recognized as the leading voice for democracy in Iran. When MEK’s potential to lead the overthrow of the theocratic became more recognizable starting in late 2017, given the MEK’s role as the driving force behind a nationwide uprising that featured explicit calls for regime change.
That initial uprising became fractured under violent pressure from regime authorities, but it also sparked a series of localized protests that lasted for months afterwards. This in turn set the stage for an even more extensive nationwide uprising in November 2019, as Iranians from disparate backgrounds reacted with outrage to the announcement of gasoline price increases and renewed the earlier movement’s anti-regime slogans.
It was in response to the first uprising that top officials in the Iranian regime embraced the risks associated with planning a terrorist attack on Western soil. It was because of the MEK’s leading role in that uprising that those authorities handed the task over to someone who had prior experience dealing with the main opposition movement. Since the regime’s downfall, due to the people’s uprising becomes clearer, and persists even today, the international community should be aware of the potential that exists for more terrorist plots along the same lines as the one that was foiled in June 2018.
As a matter of fact, the mastermind of that plot made a deliberate effort to underscore that potential in the wake of his arrest. While being interrogated by Belgian authorities, Assadi highlighted the regime’s terrorism in the broader Middle East and speculated that there were a number of terrorist groups watching his case and standing ready to launch new attacks on Western soil if they found that Brussels would not “support them” by letting the defendant off.
For participants in Thursday’s conference, this blackmail attempt was especially powerful evidence for conclusions they had already been promoting for years, not just regarding the Iranian regime but also regarding Western approaches to Iran policy. “The case reveals volumes about the nature of the Iranian theocracy,” said former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, adding, “We cannot wait any longer to implement a strategy of maximum pressure against this regime of assassins.”
That strategy stands in contrast to what many speakers, including Mrs. Rajavi, described as an historical tendency toward appeasement by Western policymakers. “The policy of appeasement has greatly emboldened the regime over the past 40 years,” said Mrs. Rajavi before specifically pointing to Assadi’s threats as a prime example of Iranian officials expressing an expectation of impunity.
Assadi’s trial is currently scheduled for November 27, and the verdict and sentence are expected to be announced only days afterward.
John Sano declared that a guilty verdict seem inevitable, but he also joined his fellow speakers in emphasizing that legal punishment for the lone terrorist diplomat would not be enough. “There should be international outrage and a more comprehensive plan to mitigate and eradicate the [Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security],” he said, noting that the MOIS has been officially designated as a foreign terrorist organization in the United States and ought to be subject to similar designation by the EU.
Robert Joseph, a former undersecretary for arms control and international security in the US State Department, was among those who used Thursday’s conference to argue that it is futile to pursue any sort of productive relationship with the current Iranian regime, especially in the wake of the 2018 terror plot. According to him, that plot offers a number of lessons about the nature of the regime, including the fact that it readily resorts to “acts of mass murder” and that it is currently doing so as a result of “fundamental desperation” in the face of escalating domestic unrest.
Ambassador Joseph underlined that the domestic unrest should be accompanied by much greater pressure on the regime from abroad. Specifically, he said, this pressure should emerge from recognition that the Iranian regime is “not a regime with whom we can do business, that it is “not going to become more moderate or become a responsible stakeholder that respects the norms of a rule-based international,” and that it has “lost all legitimacy with its own people.”
All of these conclusions are evident from the Assadi case and its surrounding context. And Thursday’s conference and its participants concluded this should lead to consequences not just for the perpetrators of the 2018 terror attack, but also for the entire system that brought those plans into being and that treats terrorism as a form of statecraft.