French soldiers patrol in front of the Eiffel Tower on January 8, 2015. (AFP)

By Claude Moniquet

September 6, 2019

Those used to dealing with Iranian affairs, especially when it comes to intelligence and security, know that truth in the mullahs’ regime is often wrapped in the sails of mystery. As Winston Churchill said once (evoking Russia): “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…”

I know this first-hand since I have dealt with Iranian drama for more than three decades, both inside and outside government, as a French intelligence agent first and then as a terrorism expert.

But what is more confounding is the attitude of the Western powers in dealing with Iranian state terror, and the fact that they keep repeating, again and again, the same mistakes based on illusions.

I am referring specifically to the handling of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism that has directly reached European territory. According to well-placed friends in France and Belgium, some sinister realities might be brewing behind the scenes when it comes to dealing with Iranian terror.

A step back is necessary to fully understand what is at stake. By March 2018, Iranian operatives had already been arrested in Albania for plotting an attack on a compound belonging to Iran’s leading democratic opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK). Had the plan not been uncovered, there is no telling how many of the 3,000 residents might have been killed. Other Iranian terrorist plots were uncovered in 2018, in Germany, Netherlands and Denmark.

So it should have come as no surprise when another terror plot was disrupted in France on June 30, 2018, following a major intelligence operation coordinated between several countries – Israel, Belgium, France, and Germany. An Iranian couple who had been living in Belgium as refugees for a long time were arrested in Brussels. In the trunk of their car was a bomb. Everything was in perfect working order and ready to use; the detonator only needed to be connected to the payload.

It was very quickly established that the two Iranians were a sleeper cell of the MOIS (Ministry of Intelligence and Security), the sprawling Iranian agency coordinating foreign intelligence activities, subversion, repression at home and support for terrorism.

For a number of years the would-be bombers had pretended to be supporters of the opposition, and now it was the time for them to act. They had been activated to strike in Paris, at the annual meeting of the Iranian resistance linked to the MEK. The annual event was attended, as usual, by tens of thousands of people and hundreds of prominent dignitaries from around the world.

Iranian Diplomat Doubling As Terrorist Mastermind

As part of this investigation, an Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was arrested after forfeiting diplomatic immunity by traveling to Germany, and he was handed over, after more than three months of wrangling, to Belgium where he is currently detained. Assadi, a senior MOIS officer, had diplomatic status at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna where he managed the MOIS activities in Europe.

This was a real disaster for Tehran: It was the first time that an Iranian diplomat has been arrested and charged in a terrorist case in Europe. If he goes to trial, the modus operandi of the MOIS will be fully exposed, alongside the fact that Iran is using diplomatic facilities to carry out terrorism in Europe. This will surely trigger a diplomatic earthquake from which the Iranian regime may never recover.

So naturally Tehran is going out of its way to prevent this from happening.

The prominent French newspaper Le Monde reported on July 31 that in June, during a “Defense Council” at which major security personnel meet weekly with the head of state, the DGSE (external intelligence services, the French equivalent of the CIA) was ordered “to mute their concerns” about what they call “Tehran’s state terrorism.”

The mullahs know that France in particular is susceptible. There are at least two precedents: One spans the hostage crisis in Lebanon and the Paris bombings in 1985-1987, following which Paris was miserably bedeviled by the Iranian demands. The other emerged in 2010 when Ali Vakili Rad (a MOIS agent sentenced to life imprisonment for the assassination of Chapour Bakhtiar, the last Prime Minister of the Shah, murdered in Paris on August 6, 1991) was released in return for a French student detained in Tehran. I am intimately familiar with both cases.

If Paris goes to bed with the ayatollahs again, it will demonstrate a totally immoral attitude and will also endanger all French and Western nationals. The common interests of the West and free world are at serious risk from the ayatollahs’ state-sponsored terrorism.

President Macron has stated that in combating terrorism, France is in total unity with the US. But it is increasingly clear that Washington wants to hold Tehran to account for all of its malign activities, particularly terrorism. Can Paris say the same of itself?

It should. The experience from forty years of the ayatollahs’ drama leads to one conclusion: Tehran yields under pressure. Firmness is the only answer. There is no other option.

Issues & Insights

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.