Iran’s Regime Impunity in Terrorism Invites Insecurity in the West

Written by
Shahriar Kia

On August 10, the US Department of Justice unsealed its case against Shahram Poursafi, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards operative who communicated at length with a confidential FBI informant about plans to assassinate former US national security advisor John Bolton and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Poursafi’s activities in this regard date back at least to October 2021 and are indicative of broader terrorist trends that have emerged from the Iranian regime in recent years.

Ever since the death of the terrorist IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, the entire Iranian regime has been all too eager to cite it as justification for violence against its foreign adversaries and as openly admitted numerous times in the past, Tehran considers these actions as part of its “strategic depth” in the wider world.

Around the first anniversary of the drone strike, then-judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi openly threatened those adversaries with “harsh revenge,” arguing that terrorist proxies all throughout the world would be willing to act upon calls for the killing of Bolton, Pompeo, and others.

One year later, Raisi altered his tone slightly to suit his newfound role as president of the Iranian regime. But despite focusing on the notion of prosecutions in an “Islamic court,” Raisi reiterated that in absence of trials, the Iranian regime should impose a default judgment of qisas, or “retribution in kind.” His ensuing comments merely reinforced the notion of Iranian terrorists taking it upon themselves to implement the regime’s twisted notions of justice.

The rhetoric surrounding Soleimani’s death is particularly interesting because it underscores the fact that terrorism is an integral part of the Iranian regime’s identity. The loss of the Quds Force leader created a distinct crisis for the ruling system, which has sought to resolve it by promoting still more of the terrorism for which he was notorious while also stepping up the repression of domestic dissent.

Raisi’s presidency has been a driving force for both trends, as many of the regime’s critics anticipated it would be when he was appointed to the position in June 2021. But although that expectation has been proven correct by a skyrocketing rate of executions, expansions of media censorship, and several terrorist threats in recent months, Raisi’s presidency has failed to achieve its further goals of silencing dissent and resolving the regime’s crises.

As former speaker of the British parliament John Bercow recently explained in a video message to the National Council of Resistance of Iran, “The dictators thought that putting the genocidal thug Ebrahim Raisi in would stabilize matters, would keep the population under control, would arrogate power to the center and secure [the regime’s] base. What they didn’t reckon with is the opposition of the population. Raisi has spawned mass protests, protests every week…”

The 1988 massacre bears mention in the context of threats against Western nationals because it went a long way toward establishing the regime’s impunity in matters related to political violence and state terrorism. Although the international community was aware of the killings at the time and mentioned them in a United Nations resolution at the end of that year, no further action was taken by any of the UN’s institutions or by any of its leading member states.

In September 2020, several UN human rights experts wrote an open letter to Iranian authorities about the 1988 massacre. In it, they acknowledged that “the failure of these bodies to act had a devastating impact on the survivors and families as well as the general situation of human rights in Iran.” Since then, Tehran has apparently come to believe there are few provocations it cannot get away with, and unfortunately, this perception has only been reinforced in more recent years by similar failures to act.

The terrorist threats against Bolton, Pompeo, and others may set the stage for more of the same. Although the US Justice Department has filed charges in absentia against Shahram Poursafi, the US government has shown no signs that it intends to follow up on the matter with the Iranian regime, much less to take serious retaliatory measures that might minimize the chances of additional threats emerging in the future and actually causing death or injury to Western personnel.

Unfortunately, the US State Department’s initial response to revelations about the Poursafi case does not inspire much confidence. Although an official statement warned of severe consequences for any attack, it seemed to simply gloss over the underlying threats, effectively inviting the Iranian regime to continue issuing those threats and plotting attacks with the expectation that it will enjoy complete impunity right up until the moment when Western law enforcement fails to thwart an act of Iranian terrorism.

The international community can ill afford to underestimate the danger of Tehran further accelerating its malign activities. History has shown there are no meaningful limits on the regime’s willingness to shed blood in service of its own aims. The 1988 massacre is one example of this, but others include terrorist bombings in the 1980s and 90s. It is also important to look to those plots that have been narrowly avoided in recent years, which are by no means limited to assassination plots targeting individual Western officials.

In June 2018, four Iranian operatives, including a high-ranking diplomat, attempted to bomb an Iranian Resistance gathering near Paris, which was attended by hundreds of political dignitaries from throughout the world. Had it not been thwarted by law enforcement, the attack might have been the worst ever on European soil. What’s more, responsibility for that attack would have fallen upon the Iranian regime’s entire leadership, whom European investigators determined to have ordered it directly.

It is inexplicable that that revelation never led to measures that would have actually held the Iranian regime accountable for its unshakeable commitment to terrorism. It will be all the more inexplicable if that tendency toward appeasement persists in Washington after the latest revelations, and especially if the US declines to even take the simple step of revoking its offer of a travel visa for Raisi ahead of next month’s UN General Assembly.

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