Western powers are turning a blind eye to Iran's activities. There has never been a worse time for their silence, the potential for more Iranian massacres is on the horizon, argues Giulio Terzi.

The UN General Assembly just hosted a special event titled "The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming Our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism." In theory, the event was an important symbol of the broadly shared principles that make up the foundation of the international community. But the symbolic value of this commitment is undermined by those times when multilateralism has worked against those principles, rather than in their favour.

There is perhaps no policy area in which this trend has been more prevalent than in the international community's dealings with the Islamic Republic of Iran. When it comes to Iran, failures are all the more inexplicable because they seem almost unique to Iran. In fact, leading Western powers sometimes appear to be so intent on turning a blind eye to Tehran's malign activities that they are willing to align themselves with other adversaries to do so.

This was the situation, for instance, at the recent UN Security Council vote on an American proposal to extend the arms embargo for Iran. Neither the United Kingdom nor France, nor any of the three European countries that are currently non-permanent members of the council would stand with the US on this issue. Each of them effectively deferred to Russia and China, who already have plans in place to sell advanced weapons to the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism when the embargo expires on October 18.

By all accounts, that deference has much more to do with Iran than with Russia. In other areas of international policy, the European Union does not hesitate to stand up to Moscow. In her State of the European Union Address last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen even went so far as to include condemnation of Vladimir Putin's apparent attacks on political opponents. Meanwhile, not one word was uttered about Iran's ongoing crackdown on dissent, despite international outcry over the September 13 execution of champion wrestler and activist Navid Afkari.

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One might attempt to excuse this double standard by arguing that Afkari's execution was a purely domestic issue for the Islamic Republic, whereas the Russians reportedly poisoned Alexei Navalny in the heart of Europe. But if that were the case, then why have EU officials been equally silent about Iran's attempted terrorist attack on an Iranian expatriate gathering outside Paris two years ago?

Apart from being every bit as much of a violation of European sovereignty as the Navalny poisoning, the 2018 terror plot very nearly claimed the lives of high-profile European dignitaries right alongside the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran who was the primary target of the bombing plot. Had the operatives involved in that plot succeeded in gaining access to the "Iran Freedom" rally, they would have detonated 500 grams of high-explosive in a crowd of roughly 100,000 people, including hundreds of lawmakers, human rights defenders, and foreign policy experts from throughout Europe, US, Canada, and the Middle East.

The mastermind of that plot, a high-ranking diplomat lately stationed at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, is currently on trial in Belgium. As a career diplomat I found it rather unprecedented for a sovereign state to use its diplomatic apparatus for terrorism in the West so brazenly. The case on itself reveals volumes about the nature of the Iranian theocracy and its modus operandi. But in the face of a complacent European attitude regarding Iranian affairs, that case is not receiving a fraction of the attention that it should. And unless this changes, the Islamic Republic is not likely to face the sorts of consequences that would deter further such action.

The international community threatens to embolden the Iranian regime with its silence. And it does so not just at its own peril, but also at peril to the regime's domestic critics. There has hardly been a worse time for this silence than today. The Islamic Republic is still amid a massive crackdown on dissent stemming from two nationwide uprisings, one in January 2018 and one in November 2019. The immediate effects of the latter uprising included the shooting deaths of 1,500 peaceful protesters, and now untold numbers face the death penalty.

Many critics of existing Western policies toward Iran are now fearful that this crackdown could rival that which began with Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa targeting the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) in 1988. Over several months that year, 30,000 political prisoners were systematically executed in a massacre that may be the late 20th century's single worst crime against humanity.

The potential for another massacre has been looming over Iran ever since, thanks in large part to the impunity that results from no Iranian officials ever being held accountable. And sadly, UN member states, notably major EU governments continue to repeat this mistake over and over again. If their commitment to multilateralism is to have any meaning, those states should begin to enforce their shared principles by launching thorough investigations of Iran's terrorist infrastructure and its massacre of political prisoners.

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