The UK and its allies need to treat the threat of Iranian terrorism seriously and acknowledge that terrorist operations run deeper than rogue individuals, argues Sir Alan Meale.

In summer 2018, an Iranian diplomat was arrested after being identified as the mastermind of a terrorist plot which targeted a convention just outside Paris. Assadollah Assadi went on trial in Belgium alongside three co-conspirators, and earlier this month, a verdict was finally returned. Assadi's conviction brings the legal matter to a close but it ought to be just the beginning of a broader effort to demand accountability from the Iranian regime and to reduce the likelihood of similar plots emerging in the future.

With Assadi now facing 20 years in prison, it is imperative for the UK and its allies to recognise that he is only part of a much larger phenomenon. There is no doubt many other Iranian officials are prepared to step into his role as overseer of terrorist operatives. Some Western authorities have already acknowledged this. In a press conference by Belgian law enforcement in the wake of Assadi's arrest, it was evident the vast majority of Iran's diplomatic personnel are actually agents of its secret service.

In the final weeks before the verdict was due, dozens of European lawmakers and former government officials urged their colleagues and national leaders to take serious action to root out the terrorist elements in Iranian institutions that are presently permitted to operate freely on Western soil.

In one such statement prepared by the International Committee in Search of Justice, representatives of more than a dozen European nations declared the scope of Assadi's crime makes it necessary for the EU to comprehensively review its approach to Iran. The statement expressed deep concern "that the EU has failed to take adequate measures," to stop the threat for good.

The specific recommendations in the ISJ statement, though addressed to president of the European Council and the head of foreign policy for the EU, should be given a fair hearing by British leadership as well.

Chief among those recommendations is a concerted effort to hold Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif personally responsible for the terror plot, on the understanding that when Iranian diplomats are caught participating in terrorist activity, it is Zarif they ultimately report to.

Write for us.

We're always on the lookout for talented writers and welcome submissions. Please send your opinion piece or pitch to:

Of course, this criticism of the Foreign Ministry flies in the face of persistent Western assumptions that a segment of Iran's ruling system is currently in the hands of reformists whose values are at odds with those of hardline figures like Supreme Leader Khamenei. But this assumption portrays a lack of understanding about the very structure of that system, which thorough vetting of all candidates for high office in makes sure that all are loyal to the hardline supreme leader.

If a lack of understanding of this system was not enough to undermine the illusion of Iran's internal moderation, then the proliferation of malign activity under President Hassan Rouhani's government should have done the job. And even if this was not enough, then revelations about the Assadi case should have made it absolutely clear that the outcome of Iranian so called "elections" make no difference to Western concerns or even to the welfare of the Iranian people.

While the prosecutors placed blame squarely on the shoulders of the regime's leadership, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which organized the event that Assadi was targeting, said that orders for the plot came from Iran's Supreme National Security Council, which receives input both from the office of the supreme leader and the president.

The apparent alignment between these two factions explains why no one within the regime objected to a plot that, if successful, would have surely killed Western politicians. It also explains why the underlying infrastructure of Iranian terrorism appears to have only grown in the eight years that the "reformist" Rouhani has been in office.

Evidence of that growth is perhaps one of the most important takeaways from the Assadi trial. Documents that were recovered at the time of his arrest showed that the former third counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna was in contact with operatives spanning at least 11 European countries and had delivered them cash payments for unknown services. This information raises vital questions about whether there are other sleeper cells standing ready to implement another terror plot similar to the Iranian-Belgian couple.

That is why, as the aforementioned ISJ statements declared, "the activities of Iran's embassies, religious and cultural centers need to be scrutinised and the diplomatic relations with Iran need to be downgraded until Iran packs up "its terrorist apparatus in Europe and provides assurances that it will never engage in terrorism in Europe again."

This is the least the UK and its allies can do to diminish the looming threat of Iranian terrorism. In light of Iran's long history of using terrorism as a form of statecraft, it is a course of action that the international community should have initiated long ago. Do it now before it is too late.

4 votes

Sign-up for free to stay up to date with the latest political news, analysis and insight from the Comment Central team.

By entering your email address you are agreeing to Comment Central’s privacy policy