Recent Terrorist Threats Show Iranian Regime Is Incapable of Negotiation or Reform

Written by
Shahriar Kia

The Iranian regime’s terrorist activities have seen a recent upsurge, with Western authorities disrupting multiple assassination plots and investigating networks of Tehran’s operatives that are focused on monitoring, defaming, and directly attacking expatriate dissidents throughout the world. Unfortunately, those counterterrorism actions have yet to result in consequences for the regime as a whole, or to prompt a shift away from Western policies that critics have labeled as tending toward “appeasement”.

Last week, a 24-year-old man whose social media had expressed admiration for the Revolutionary Guard Corps leaped onto the stage at a Western New York literary event, apparently intending to implement the 33-year-old fatwa through which the regime’s first supreme leader called for the death of The Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie. The incident occurred just days after the US Department of Justice revealed details of an IRGC member’s plot to assassinate former US national security advisor John Bolton.

The previous month, Albanian authorities similarly revealed details of their operation targeting Tehran’s spies and would-be terrorists in that country, which is also home to the headquarters-in-exile for the leading Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. (PMOI/MEK)

On July 12, the Special Court for Combatting Corruption and Organized Crime issued search warrants for several properties associated with known and suspected agents of the Iranian regime. The ensuing raids, property seizures, and detentions were officially explained as being intended to prevent “any possible terrorist attack”.

The danger of such an attack has been a matter of public record in Albania at least since March 2018, when authorities reportedly disrupted a plot to attack the MEK headquarters, with a truck bomb. Just three months later, a very similar danger was exposed in Western Europe when four Iranian operatives including a high-ranking diplomat were caught attempting to bomb the international gathering of Iranian expatriates and political supporters which was organized just outside of Paris by the PMOI’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

To deal with Tehran’s threats, the world should stand with Iran’s people

The attack on Salman Rushdie took place on the very same day as the European Union’s coordinator for the nuclear talks presented the Iranian regime with what it called the “final text” of an agreement to restore mutual compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Last Monday, Tehran responded to that text by once again attempting to extend negotiations and extract new concessions from its Western adversaries.

Critics have found the regime’s conduct to be frustrating ever since earnest efforts to revive the agreement began 17 months ago. The negotiating process was stalled for five of those months following the appointment of Iran’s new president Ebrahim Raisi, in June 2021. When Iranian negotiators finally returned to Vienna for further talks, they did so with a new set of extraneous demands and a noticeably firmer commitment to non-compromise. Then, in March, the negotiations came to an abrupt halt once again, after which point Tehran insisted its representatives would only return to conclude a final agreement based on all of the regime’s outstanding demands.


That remains the regime’s position even today, despite the Western negotiating parties ruling out such capitulation. Tehran’s intransigence would be galling under any circumstances, but it is especially galling in the face of growing awareness of the terrorist threats either closely associated with or directly traceable to the Iranian leadership. These dual trends underscore the regime’s expectation of impunity, as well as its blatant disregard for all international norms. But they also help to reveal the regime’s vulnerability, insofar as they demonstrate that it cannot walk away from either its sponsorship of terrorism or the prospect of sanctions relief under a revived nuclear deal.

In the first place, terrorism allows the regime to project a fake image of strength to adversaries both at home and abroad, which reinforces the message conveyed by repressive government actions inside Iran. This domestic repression has accelerated during the Raisi era, as might be expected on account of the current president’s legacy of direct participation in major human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.

In 1988, Raisi served as one of four officials on the Tehran “death commission” that oversaw mass executions of political detainees in Evin and Gohardasht Prisons. Those killings were part of a nationwide massacre that primarily targeted the MEK and claimed upwards of 30,000 lives. The massacre’s perpetrators have been systematically rewarded with positions of greater power and influence ever since, and prior to becoming president, Raisi was tasked with overseeing a “religious foundation” that routinely finances terrorist activities, and then with overseeing the federal judiciary.

In the latter role, Raisi helped to carry out the crackdown on dissent which followed the outbreak of a nationwide uprising in November 2019 – one of several in recent years. Around 1,500 peaceful protesters were killed in mass shootings that month, and for several months thereafter Raisi’s judiciary pursued a campaign of torture against those who were arrested in connection with the protests. However, such actions failed to prevent further uprisings and even appeared to bring greater attention to Raisi’s past crimes.

Recalling Iran’s nationwide November 2019 protests after gas price hike
When Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei put Raisi forward as the only viable candidate for the presidency, he was condemned by large swathes of the Iranian population as the “butcher of Tehran.” Voter turnout for the sham election in June 2021 was the lowest in the history of the Iranian regime, and his appointment was quickly followed by the outbreak of new protests featuring chants of “death to Raisi” as well as “death to the dictator,” in reference to Khamenei.

Those slogans remain in widespread circulation to this day, with new protests having erupted over water shortages on August 16 in the city of Shahrekord. Each protest provides a new reminder of the Iranian regime’s vulnerability since each one represents open defiance of that regime’s best efforts to threaten its adversaries both at home and abroad. The rate of executions has skyrocketed since Raisi took office, with more than twice as many prisoners killed in the first half of 2022 than the first half of 2021; yet this appears to have only prompted more protests as well as more international awareness of the regime’s human rights abuses.

The attack on Salman Rushdie and the disclosure of plots targeting Ashraf 3 and Ambassador Bolton all serve as reminders that Tehran’s contempt for human rights is not confined to its own territory. This in turn should lead Western policymakers to understand that their dealings with the Iranian regime ought to address the full range of its malign activity. It is obviously at odds with the essential interests of the US and the EU if their desire the restore a much-criticized nuclear deal leads them to overlook terrorist threats which affect them directly. But even if those threats were not as apparent as they are today, it would still be foolish of Western policymakers to treat the Iranian regime as an ordinary negotiating partner or as a nation capable of reform under its existing terrorist regime.

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