File photo: Free Iran gathering in Berlin 2018
In August 2021, Iran’s regime Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei selected Ebrahim Raisi as the next president of the Iranian regime. Even before Raisi was formally inaugurated, his influence became apparent in the form of a rising rate of executions and more aggressive crackdowns on domestic dissent. At the same time, the Iranian people’s distaste for his appointment became apparent in the form of new outpourings of that dissent, which challenged Khamenei’s mission of restoring order in the wake of multiple nationwide uprisings.
Now, one year past that inauguration, it is clear that that mission is failing. Food subsidy cuts and preventable disasters sparked large scale protests in May and June which continue to the present day, in defiance of all the regime’s to intimidate the public with mass arrests and the constant operation of prison gallows. What’s more, these and other recurring protests often feature the same anti-government slogans that defined the uprisings at the beginning of 2018 and in November 2019. Among them are calls for “death to the dictator” in reference to Khamenei, and since his inauguration a year ago, “death to Raisi”.
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With the one-year milestone for the president’s repressive rule now looming, the Iranian regime has apparently recognized the need to expand its strategy for suppressing pro-democracy sentiment. Thus, Fars News Agency, an outlet with close ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, published an article last week which set its sights on targets far beyond the borders of Iran. “The Islamic Republic should put military action on the agenda for maintaining international peace and security,” it said before offering the absurd argument that such action would be in line with international law if directed against the exiled dissidents who remain the regime’s arch enemies.
The call for military action came in the context of a larger screed against the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), and its self-built community in Albania, known as Ashraf 3.
The Fars article also offered an implicit recommendation for terrorist acts against the MEK, euphemistically referring to them as “countermeasures” designed to “threaten” the nations where members reside. But Iranian authorities have already attempted to act upon this recommendation in the past, targeting not just Ashraf 3 but also locations in France, the United States, and elsewhere.
In 2018, a high-ranking Iranian diplomat was arrested in Germany after being identified as the mastermind in a plot to bomb the Free Iran World Summit, an event that was held by the National Council of Resistance of Iran near Paris. The diplomat and his three known co-conspirators were ultimately put on trial in Belgium and handed sentenced of up to 20 years for conspiring to commit terrorism and murder.
Though Iranian activists praised the convictions, they also criticized Western powers for failing to pursue accountability for figures higher in the regime, even though Belgian investigators established that the terrorist diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, had been acting upon orders from top government officials. The weakness of this approach was underscored recently when the Belgian government revealed it had quietly negotiated a treaty with Iran which could set the stage Assadi’s release in a prisoner swap, only four years into his 20-year sentence.
The bill approved by the Foreign Relations Committee of the Parliament of Belgium supports terrorism, and betrays democracy & #HumanRights. As the prime victim of terrorism, executions, and massacre, the Iranian Resistance will take action through legal and political avenues.
— Maryam Rajavi (@Maryam_Rajavi) July 6, 2022
Mere consideration of that release sends a troubling message to the Iranian regime. It suggests that Belgium and its allies are not committed to accountability even for the direct participants in Iranian terrorist schemes, much less for the regime itself. In light of that message, one has to wonder about the regime’s perception of the potential costs and benefits of launching major attacks on the communities and organizations that provide support from abroad for the ongoing protests that demand regime change and a democratic future for Iran.
If Tehran has good reason to believe that it will suffer no direct consequences for such attacks, then what reason does it have to resist the impulse? And if potential Iranian operatives know that the regime only needs to take another Western national hostage in order to facilitate their release, then how much can they really be expected to worry about getting caught?
Furthermore, if the regime believes it can essentially get away with terrorist acts and even outright military strikes on Western territory, then what won’t it try to get away with? In the face of what human rights groups have called a “horrifying wave” of executions, and in the wake of brutal crackdowns on dissent like the one that left 1,500 peaceful protesters dead in November 2019, it is perhaps difficult to imagine the regime’s behavior growing worse at home. But then again, the current Iranian regime president was one of the leading perpetrators of a massacre of political prisoners which claimed 30,000 lives in the summer of 1988.
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It would be almost impossible to overestimate the sorts of atrocities the Iranian regime is capable of, especially if it believes that it will face no real consequences for them. That regime most likely views the past year as an initial test of Western permissiveness. As the Raisi administration enters its second year, we can expect its malign activities to accelerate even further, both at home and abroad, unless American and European leaders promptly recognize the significance of threats like that published in Fars.
The response to every such threat should be a clear enumeration of the serious consequences Tehran will face in response, in the form of more extensive sanctions, greater diplomatic isolation, political support for the democratic opposition, and crucially, a proportional response to any violation of Western nation’s sovereignty and national security.