Iran is wreak­ing ter­ror in Europe, but for Brus­sels trade ties are more im­por­tant

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday Comment - CON COUGHLINHLIN READ MORE

Fol­low­ing a wave of ter­ror plots on Euro­pean soil, the EU has fi­nally wo­ken up to the grow­ing threat Iran poses to global se­cu­rity. Last week, it an­nounced new mea­sures against Tehran – yet when com­pared with the ro­bust sanc­tions regime Washington has im­ple­mented in re­cent months, Brus­sels’ re­sponse is hardly likely to cause the ay­a­tol­lahs any sleep­less nights.

The sanc­tions come after a se­ries of Ira­nian-spon­sored plots that have been un­cov­ered in Europe since the sign­ing of the con­tro­ver­sial nu­clear deal with Tehran in 2015. Apart from re­solv­ing the long-stand­ing con­tro­versy over Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions, the deal, bro­kered by Barack Obama, was sup­posed to en­cour­age the regime to adopt a more con­struc­tive at­ti­tude to­wards in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.

In­stead, it ap­pears to have em­bold­ened the ay­a­tol­lahs to ex­pand their ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tions from their usual do­main in the Mid­dle East to the heart of Europe.

In 2015 – shortly after the nu­clear deal was signed – 56-year-old Ira­nian opposition ac­tivist Ali Mo­tamed was as­sas­si­nated in the Dutch city of Almere. This was fol­lowed by the mur­der of Ah­mad Molla Nissi, an­other critic of the Ira­nian regime, in The Hague in 2017. The Dutch in­tel­li­gence ser­vice has pub­licly stated that it has “strong in­di­ca­tions that Iran was in­volved in the as­sas­si­na­tions of two Dutch na­tion­als”.

Then there was last sum­mer’s failed plot to bomb an Ira­nian opposition rally in Paris, which was at­tended by for­mer New York mayor Rudolph Gi­u­liani. A Bel­gian cou­ple of Ira­nian ori­gin were caught with half a kilo­gram of pow­er­ful ex­plo­sives and a det­o­na­tor when they were ap­pre­hended by French se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in a plot that Paris be­lieves was or­gan­ised by As­sadol­lah As­sadi, a se­nior mem­ber in Iran’s in­tel­li­gence min­istry. The cou­ple are now await­ing trial in Bel­gium on ter­ror­ism charges.

In Septem­ber, Dan­ish po­lice suc­cess­fully foiled a plot to as­sas­si­nate an Ira­nian ac­tivist in Copen­hagen, which re­quired them to seal off all road routes to the city. The Dan­ish gov­ern­ment has blamed Ira­nian in­tel­li­gence for plan­ning the at­tack and has re­called its am­bas­sador from Tehran.

The spike in Ira­nian ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity is by no means con­fined to Europe. Be­fore Christ­mas, Brian Hook, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Iran, pro­vided a damn­ing dossier of Iran’s in­creased ac­tiv­ity in the Arab world, pre­sent­ing a se­lec­tion of Ira­ni­an­made weapons that have been used in Ye­men, Iraq and Syria. Mr Hook made spe­cial ref­er­ence to ac­tiv­ity aimed at over­throw­ing the rulers of the king­dom of Bahrain, a par­tic­u­larly trou­bling de­vel­op­ment for Bri­tain, which has just opened a naval base there, to be used by the Royal Navy’s new Queen El­iz­a­beth air­craft car­ri­ers.

The threat is cer­tainly not be­ing un­der­es­ti­mated by Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, who tell me

The nu­clear deal bro­kered in 2015 seems to have em­bold­ened the ay­a­tol­lahs to ex­pand their ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tions from the Mid­dle East to the heart of Europe

at tele­ opin­ion that in 2019 Iran is likely to be their main fo­cus in the Mid­dle East, tak­ing prece­dence over threats such as Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant (Isil) and al-Qaeda.

By con­trast, the EU’s re­sponse to the com­pelling ev­i­dence re­gard­ing the re­cent up­surge in Ira­ni­anspon­sored ter­ror­ism has been de­cid­edly un­der­whelm­ing. The mea­sures an­nounced last week con­sisted merely of freez­ing the as­sets of two Ira­nian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers im­pli­cated in the re­cent plots, as well as Iran’s min­istry of in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity.

The US gov­ern­ment, by con­trast, is im­ple­ment­ing a wide-rang­ing sanc­tions regime against Tehran in an ef­fort to force the mul­lahs to mend their ways.

The lu­cra­tive trade ties that many Euro­pean coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly Ger­many, France and Italy, have de­vel­oped with Iran since the nu­clear deal was signed mean they are re­luc­tant to sup­port the im­ple­men­ta­tion of se­ri­ous mea­sures against Iran.

In­deed, not con­tent with op­pos­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s decision to with­draw from the nu­clear deal, the EU is now at­tempt­ing to cir­cum­vent US sanc­tions through the es­tab­lish­ment of the Spe­cial Pur­pose Vehicle, a mea­sure de­signed to al­low Euro­pean com­pa­nies to con­tinue trad­ing with Iran with­out at­tract­ing puni­tive mea­sures from the US.

The EU’s ap­proach is un­likely to win many friends in Washington. But even when pro­vided with clear proof of Ira­nian ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity on its own soil, it has shown that it is more in­ter­ested in pre­serv­ing trade ties with Tehran than safe­guard­ing Euro­pean se­cu­rity.

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