by Bob Blackman MP
A Belgian federal court is expected to consider the appeal filed by three Iranian operatives who attempted to bomb a massive political rally near Paris in 2018 and announce its decision in a few weeks. The trio were convicted in February and sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in prison. The plot’s mastermind, a high-ranking diplomat who had been working out of the Iranian embassy in Vienna, was separately sentenced to 20 years and later declined to appeal after the court rejected his argument that he should be exempt from prosecution on account of diplomatic immunity.
That defense strategy was a notable reflection of the Iranian regime’s tendency to insist upon its own impunity in dealings with the foreign adversaries. That phenomenon is currently on display in the context of nuclear negotiations which resumed last week in Vienna following a delay of more than five months. Iran’s main representative at those talks, Ali Bagheri-Kani, started the latest round by reiterating Iran’s maximalist demands and even declared that the points thought to have been resolved in the earlier sessions could still be revised and subjected to new Iranian demands.
Iran’s posture in the nuclear talks is unsurprising, considering how desperately the Western signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action have been working to restore that 2015 agreement. Iran has faced no real consequences for a vast array of violations of that agreement, including enrichment of its uranium to a new high of 60 percent fissile purity, and production of materials that have no real purpose other than as part of the core of a nuclear weapon.
If Britain, France, and Germany are willing to look the other way on such activities, is it any wonder that Tehran believes it can demand comprehensive relief from US sanctions and expect to receive it while offering nothing in return? Similar questions can be asked with regard to any number of other issues, including Iran’s history of terrorist activity, its destructive actions in the surrounding region, and its domestic human rights abuses.
Unfortunately, Western policymakers have on various occasions turned a blind eye to each of these issues. Since 1988, for instance, Britain, Europe, and the US have continually failed to demand accountability for one of the worst crimes against humanity since the Second World War. In the summer of that year, Iranian authorities executed approximately 30,000 political prisoners following “trials” that generally lasted only a few minutes. Awareness of the killings swiftly spread throughout the international community, but prompted little response from Western leaders who were hopeful about normalizing relations with the Islamic Republic.
Pursuit of that goal even led some nations to designate the main target of the 1988 massacre, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, as a terrorist group. All such designations were eventually removed in the wake of legal challenges, and the PMOI has steadily acquired support among a politically diverse array of lawmakers throughout the West. I am proud to count myself among them, and it is on account of that support that I was in attendance at the Free Iran Summit on June 30, 2018 when it was made the target of an Iranian bomb plot.
Total participation in that event was estimated at around 100,000, mostly consisting of Iranian expatriates but supported by political dignitaries from across the globe. The rally was organized by the PMOI’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and the bomb was reportedly intended to kill NCRI President Maryam Rajavi. Had the subjects of this week’s appeal succeeded in carrying 500 grams of the high explosive TATP to the event, there is little doubt that hundreds or even thousands of bystanders would have been killed as well.
In securing the conspirators’ initial conviction, Belgian prosecutors made it clear that orders for an attack came from high within the leadership of the Iranian regime. Their willingness to risk so great a death toll on European soil is a testament to how little they expected of the Western response. This sentiment was no doubt influenced by past experience which showed policymakers’ willingness to overlook attacks on the PMOI specifically.
Whether or not such policymakers now join me in supporting that group’s vision for the future of Iran, it is vital that the Iranian regime be informed that its impunity in such matters is at an end. Fortunately, Swedish authorities began to convey that message early this year when they initiated prosecution of one participant in the 1988 massacre. Other nations must now reinforce that message by opening broader inquiries into the politically motivated killings.
At the same time, they must avoid undermining it by reducing the sentences for participants in the 2018 terror plot, or by refusing to follow up with political consequences for those terrorists’ handlers in Tehran.
This article first appeared in Townhall