Europe should not be deceived by Iran’s bid for sympathy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L-2) speaks as Revolutionary Armed Forces chief Hassan Firouzabadi (l), Revolutionary Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jafari (R-2), and Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan, look on during the annual military parade marking the Iraqi invasion. [Abedin Taherkenareh/ EPA]

Former European Parliament Vice-President Alejo Vidal-Quadras warns that the West must be vigilant not to fall for Iranian state propaganda depicting the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism as an ally in the War on Terror.

Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice-president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is currently president of the Brussels-based International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ).

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards recently announced that it fired mid-range missiles from western Iran into the Deir-es-Zour region of eastern Syria, ostensibly to assist Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in his “war against terrorists”.

Even before the missile strike, the Iranian authorities attempted to capitalise on a 7 June terrorist attack by ISIS on the Iranian parliament building and the mausoleum of Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah Khomeini to portray themselves as an opponent and target of global terrorism, rather than a supporter and perpetrator. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said, the founder and the number one state sponsor of terror is trying the switch the place of murderer and victim and portray as such the central banker of terrorism.

The real victims of these vicious actions are the innocent people killed or wounded that deserve indeed our solidarity, and not the most cruel and oppressive regime of the planet.

The statement also placed this in the context of a broader Iranian project of trying to overcome the country’s economic and political isolation without compromising on its violent and destabilising activities in the region and the world.

In this sense, the Iranian regime’s response to the Tehran attacks is significantly connected to the 2015 nuclear agreement, in which modest and lightly enforced restrictions on country’s nuclear enrichment program were exchanged for tens of billions of dollars’ worth of relief from economic sanctions.

That agreement has prompted a number of European policymakers and business leaders to begin pressing for expanded relations with the Islamic Republic, despite the persistent absence of the deal’s further effects: the moderation of Iranian behaviour and a general climate of rapprochement between the Islamic Republic and the West.

In that environment, it seems likely that many of these same advocates of trade deals and normalisation will regard the Tehran attacks as a further point in their favour. If Iran is a target for ISIS, they might argue, surely it can also be an asset in helping to defeat the Sunni terrorist group. If that’s the case, what harm could come of doing business with Iran and providing its government with an economic boost as its fight aids in the defeat of terrorists?

The latest ISIS attacks change nothing about the Iranian regime’s history, ideology, or conduct. Since its co-opting of the 1979 popular revolution, that regime, and in particular its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been the main driving force behind Islamic extremism on both sides of the sectarian divide.

Sometimes it has even fuelled Sunni extremism by encouraging the alienation of Sunni populations overall, as it has done in the ISIS hotbeds of Syria and Iraq, where Shiite militants with the IRGC’s backing run roughshod over the country.

Importantly, many of these militant groups have been accused of human rights violations that rival those of ISIS. This goes to show that simply eliminating ISIS, a goal that must be unfailingly pursued, will not improve the lives of the people in reclaimed territory if Iran exerts its own influence in the Sunni group’s stead.

Other times, Iran has directly financed Sunni terrorists because it viewed them as tools for Tehran’s foundational ideology of opposition to the Western world. This adversarial relationship did not end with the nuclear agreement; it will not end when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani begins his second, supposedly moderate term in August, and it is not ending just because European nations and the Islamic Republic share an enemy in common.

It is important for the entire international community to remember that any expansion in economic, political, or security cooperation with Tehran will be an act of outreach to the totalitarian regime that has had the most profoundly destructive impact on the lives of the Iranian people, killing untold numbers of dissidents and activists since the inception of the Islamic Republic, including 30,000 political prisoners, mostly from the opposition group PMOI (MEK), in the summer of 1988.

This record of terror and violence will be thoroughly explained on 1 July when the NCRI holds its annual Iran Freedom rally in Paris. Hundreds of European and American politicians will be in attendance at that event, with tens of thousands of Iranians, to endorse regime change.

They will also urge the US and its global partners to blacklist the IRGC as a terrorist organisation as a matter of urgency.

The task thereafter will be to convince Western governments to set policy in accordance with the notion that Middle Eastern conflicts should not be competitions between two factions of extremists, but rather between extremism as a whole and the moderate Muslims who advocate for true democracy and freedom in their homelands.

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