Iran almost managed to carry out some of its threats against Europe in recent weeks, but it learned its lesson the hard way and discovered that its agents operating in the West have been exposed. Two attempts to attack Iranian dissidents were foiled. One was in France against the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran conference; the other was in Denmark against Ahwazi activists.
While the security agencies in several European capitals believe that Tehran will not stop such efforts, Paris did not think it necessary to do more than expel an Iranian diplomat. What’s more, there was no special media focus on the incident. The authorities in Copenhagen, meanwhile, urged EU countries to support the demand for economic sanctions against Iran. Will this mean more sanctions to join those imposed by the US?
Iran’s action against dissidents who challenge its security must put relations with “friendly” countries at risk. If Tehran doesn’t understand that, it is misjudging the situation.
In the French and Danish cases, it was confirmed that efforts to save the nuclear agreement were not connected to the thwarting of the two terrorist attacks. Perhaps the fact that Iranian citizens were targeted meant that the situation did not escalate.
According to The Economist, the Europeans are interested in maintaining the nuclear agreement with Iran because it should delay Tehran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. If the deal is discarded, Iran may resume uranium enrichment in secret locations that weapons inspectors cannot get to and the capacity to build a nuclear bomb may result.
This is a situation that Europe does not want to think about, as they fear that it would open the door to worse prospects, most notably armed conflict. The Europeans welcome Donald Trump’s invitation to Iran to negotiate but consider his demand for a new agreement imposed by force through the use of new sanctions to be unrealistic in its objective of convincing the government in Tehran to agree to talks.
The US is relying on the impact of the sanctions to bring the Iranians to the table, but the EU is stepping up its efforts to establish a plan to overcome or ease them.
Over a year after the US pulled out of the nuclear deal, Europe’s rejection of such a move has not changed, although the dispute with America may be costly. The Iranians believe that pressure on Europe could push the US President to back down, or they could play on the difference between the Western allies.
The irony is that Tehran has gone so far as to make threats, with Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and his deputy, Hossein Salami, have hinted since November last year that the range of Iran’s missiles could be increased to over 2,000 km. They clearly meant to let the EU know that Europe could be targeted “if it posed a threat to Iran.” The Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation also used threatening language against Europe just days after the US pulled out of the deal in May, warning of the consequences if the EU reneges on the terms of the agreement. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei outlined a list of requirements from Europe’s commitment to the deal and said that it would be considered null and void if they are not fulfilled.
In September, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif threatened that his country might curb its implementation of the agreement and increase its work on uranium enrichment if Europe does not compensate Iran for the consequences of the US sanctions. He added that Europe must be ready to pay for its security.
Such threats apparently did not frighten the Europeans. However, it is surprising that they did not reject them or respond in any other way. Instead, their dealings with Iran since have been intended to appease and reassure Tehran, to no apparent avail.
Iran may be able to resume its nuclear programme, but not now, as it needs time to regain its former momentum. It is, however, using this card to put pressure on Europe, which wants to preserve its economic interests but is reluctant to be seen to be giving in to any blackmail. This has strengthened Tehran, which is using the Europeans in its confrontation with Washington.
It may have succeeded in part with the idea of forcing Europe to “compensate” Iran for its losses as a result of the US sanctions. There is an international precedent for this; the Obama administration compensated Israel for not taking action against the nuclear deal.
The whole game will be revealed soon because any European measures will be limited and formal and will not constitute worthy “compensation”. Furthermore, Iran has not accompanied its threats with any genuine offers that would help Europe to argue to the US that Tehran intends to change its behaviour.
What’s more, the Danish Prime Minister has insisted that maintaining the nuclear agreement is not a blank cheque to cover up unacceptable Iranian actions on European soil. Denmark’s leader made this statement in the context of a call to punish Iran for the foiled attacks against its dissidents.
This article first appeared in Arabic in the New Khaleej on 8 November 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.