Opinion: The danger of appeasing Iran’s mullahs

Governments around the world need hold the Iranian regime accountable for its foreign adventurism and its reprehensible repression of dissent and peaceful protests at home. 

By Majid Rafizadeh, The Gatestone Institute

Turkey and the European Union are on the same page when it comes to pursuing appeasement policies with the Iranian regime. How do the ruling mullahs of Iran repay the favor? Through assassinations and terror plots.

This month, the Turkish authorities detained an Iranian diplomat, Mohammad Reza Naderzadeh, 43, for his role in killing an Iranian dissident, Massoud Molavi Vardanjani, in November 2019. Reportedly, the Iranian diplomat was a staff member in the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul and had forged travel documents for Ali Esfandiari, who orchestrated the assassination of Molavi Vardanjani.

The Iranian regime, it seems, targeted Molavi Vardanjani because of his social media campaign to expose corruption in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its elite Quds Force branch, and the theocrats’ military establishment. After serving as an intelligence officer for the Iranian government, he defected. “I will root out the corrupt mafia commanders…,” he wrote on social media. “Pray that they don’t kill me before I do this.”

It is not the first time that the Iranian regime has used Turkish soil to assassinate its opponents. In 2017, Saeed Karimian, a British television executive and founder of GEM TV, which runs 17 Persian-language TV channels, was shot dead in Istanbul. Before his murder, he was convicted in absentia in Iran’s revolutionary court for spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic. His killers, traveling on fake passports, were arrested in Serbia while travelling to Iran. An opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, stated that Karimian was assassinated by the IRGC on the direct orders of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

In Iran, orders to carry out assassination on a foreign soil likely come from top. As a senior US official, who requested anonymity, in the Trump administration previously told Reuters:

“Given Iran’s history of targeted assassinations of Iranian dissidents and the methods used in Turkey, the United States government believes that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was directly involved in Vardanjani’s killing.”

To appease Iran, Turkey has lax visa requirements for Iran which likely make Iran’s assassination attempts in Turkey easier: it allows Iranian agents to commute more easily between Ankara and Tehran. Iranian citizens are exempt from obtaining a visa for visits to Turkey for up to 90 days.

The policy is the same for the EU. After the EU began pursuing ways of appeasing Iran, and after sanctions were lifted in 2015 due to the nuclear deal (which Iran never signed), Iran’s assassins and terror operatives ratcheted up their activities on the European soil.

An Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was put on trial in a breathtaking case that saw him accused of direct involvement in a terrorist plot in France. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors pointed out that, in June 2018, Assadi delivered 500 grams of the powerful explosive triacetone triperoxide to his accomplices with the aim of bombing a significant Iranian opposition rally in Paris. Had the plot not been discovered at the last minute, the terrorist act could have left hundreds dead, including international dignitaries and many European parliamentarians.

Another individual linked to the Iranian regime, Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, 40, was sentenced to prison in June 2020 in a European court — this time, in Denmark — for being an accessory to the attempted murder of one or more individuals who are opponents of Iran’s current regime. According to Denmark’s Roskilde District Court, Loloei had collected information on a dissident, so far unnamed, and given it to Iran’s intelligence service, who planned to murder the man. The information included photos of the target’s house, street and surroundings.

“The court found that the information was collected and passed on to a person working for an Iranian intelligence service, for use by the intelligence service’s plans to kill the exile,” the court’s statement read.

Governments around the world need hold the Iranian regime accountable for its foreign adventurism and its reprehensible repression of dissent and peaceful protests at home. They must adopt a firm policy of expelling Iranian “diplomats” and intelligence agents like Assadi, who may be plotting further terrorist attacks. They also need to consider closing down Iranian embassies until Tehran halts its terror activities.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu