Ending Iranian terrorism — what the world can do
The recent suicide bombing of an airport tourist bus in the Bulgarian city of Burgas – which killed five Israelis and the Bulgarian bus driver, and injured dozens more – was but the latest in a series of major terrorist assaults against Israeli and Jewish targets in 2012 alone. Thankfully, most of these attacks were thwarted without serious casualties, but all reflect a common pattern: the lethal convergence of Hezbollah operatives and Iranian instructions, as will be seen more fully below.
Moreover, in an eerie but revealing coincidence, the Burgas attack took place on the 18th anniversary of the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Cultural Centre in Argentina (AMIA), in which 87 people were murdered and more than 300 wounded. Then, there were clear and documented Iranian and Hezbollah ties.
Indeed, when I met with the Argentinean minister of justice, he called the Buenos Aries bombing “the worst terrorist atrocity in Argentina since the Second World War.” Argentinean authorities determined that it was carried out by Hezbollah – operating at the behest of Iran – with enormous implications for the present Iranian-Hezbollah wave of terror that has engaged five continents and 24 countries in the last two years alone, reminding us of the annual US State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism, which lists Iran as “the most active state sponsor of terrorism.”
Moreover, as a result of the Argentinean investigation into the AMIA bombing, INTERPOL issued Red Notices against several Iranian nationals, none of whom have been brought to justice. Indeed, some have been rewarded for their criminality, such as Ahmad Vahidi, the former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Al-Kuds Force, who was named Minister of Defense in Iran by President Ahmadinjead, and who is responsible for overseeing its nuclear program.
Apart from the need to bring the named perpetrators to justice, the Argentinean Special Prosecutors’ exhaustive 800-page report bears recall for its other conclusions regarding the AMIA bombing, and its nexus to the current spate of terrorist attacks targeting Jewish Israeli nationals.
First, Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman concluded that the mass terrorist bombing was conceived, planned and ordered by the “highest echelons in the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In other words, this was not the act of “a radical faction” within Iran. It was a state-orchestrated act of mass terror. Accordingly, the Argentinean State Prosecutors called for national and international arrest warrants to be issued for former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and former members of his government. These included the then-minister of intelligence and security, Ali Fallahian, the then-foreign minister, Ali Velayati, and the former general commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Rezai.
Second, the report documented the central role of Hezbollah in carrying out the attack. It characterized Hezbollah as the “terrorist proxy of the Iranian regime.” As such, it called for the arrest of Imad Mugniyeh, the head of the Foreign Security Service of Hezbollah at the time of the attack. The report further identified the driver of the vehicle used in the suicide bombing attack as being a Hezbollah operative.
Third, the report stressed – something which is often overlooked or forgotten – that the attack itself must be seen as an act of anti-Jewish terrorism. “Any interpretation of the terrorist attack that ignores this salient characteristic,” they wrote, “runs the risk of sinning by omission.”
Fourth, the report refers to the vast Iranian intelligence and operational structure that had “infiltrated” Buenos Aires, while documenting the extra-territorial terrorist tentacles of the Iranian regime. Included in this structure were the Iranian Embassy and extremist elements in Shiite mosques identified in the report. In addition, the report notes that Iranian ambassadors in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay departed from their respective embassies a few days prior to the attack.
Finally, and again with ominous implications for Iran’s nuclear weaponization program, Special Prosecutor Nisman wrote: “We can also prove that a pivotal motivation for the attack was Argentina’s decision to cancel the contracts for providing nuclear technology and arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
In particular, as referenced above, the Argentinean terrorist bombing presaged the increasing, and compelling, evidence of Iranian footprints in a series of recent aborted terrorist attacks in 2012 – spawning five continents – and including countries such as Kenya, Turkey, Cyprus, India, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Singapore, and the US.
For example, this week alone, two Iranians arrested in Kenya were set to stand trial over their alleged involvement in terrorist activities, including plans to attack several Israeli interests in that country. This follows the arrest earlier this month by Cypriot authorities of a Hezbollah operative with photographs of Israeli targets on the island who had also been tracking the movement of Israeli tourists, a pattern reminiscent of the attack in Burgas. In fact, the attack on Burgas was not the first of its kind, as a terrorist plot was thwarted there in January.
As well, earlier this year Indian police “conclusively established” an Iranian connection to the bombing of an Israeli Embassy car in New Delhi, in which the wife of the Israeli defense attaché was wounded. An Indian journalist with close ties to Iran’s notorious Quds Force, Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi, was arrested for facilitating the attack, while Indian courts issued arrest warrants for three other Iranian nationals in connection with the bombing.
Indian authorities also determined “that the bombing was connected to a botched attack targeting Israeli consular staff in Bangkok (in January)”, and in that regard Thai officials arrested Hussein Atris, a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent linked to Hezbollah. Further, authorities arrested three Iranian nationals in connection with the plots. A fourth was detained in Malaysia, while others are still being sought.
On February 13, the same day that the Israeli diplomatic car was bombed in New Delhi, police in Georgia defused a similar device in a car belonging to an Israeli embassy staff worker in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
In Singapore, around the same time, a plot to assassinate visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was foiled by Singaporean authorities, who arrested three members of a Hezbollah-Iranian terror cell.
In Azerbaijan, three Azeris deployed by Iran were detained in January after planning to attack two Israelis employed by the Chabad Jewish school in Baku. The trio — Rasim Farail Aliyev; Ali Alihamza Huseynov; and Balaqardash Dadashov, an Azeri citizen who lives in the Iranian city of Ardabil – were given smuggled arms and equipment by Iranian agents.
In what perhaps is the most shocking – yet least-reported development yet – Azerbaijani police have detained nearly two dozen people for allegedly plotting attacks on the country’s US and Israeli embassies as well as a series of Jewish and Western targets. A number of operatives detained were trained and armed in Iranian military camps.
In mid-March, based on Israeli intelligence sources, Turkish authorities reportedly disrupted an Iranian terrorist attack involving members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, who entered Turkey from Iran targeting Israel’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul.
Nor should one ignore the United States’ recent indictment of senior Iranian officials, accused of orchestrating an elaborate plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington last year.
US officials have recently acknowledged that aid from Iran to Syria ‘is increasing, and is increasingly focused on lethal assistance’
Indeed, as part of the same plot – though this has gone largely unremarked – the indicted Iranian officials also conspired to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Saudi Embassy in Argentina. By striking at diplomatic targets – indeed, all four of the February 2011 attacks targeted Israeli Embassy and consular officials – Iran demonstrates not only its hatred and rejectionism of Israel but its violent rejection of the principle of diplomatic immunity, a foundational principle of international law.
It should also be noted that the notorious Quds Force has been at the forefront of Iranian state terror, and has been implicated in the planning, arming or carrying out of attacks against civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe, the United States and Asia. Indeed, the IRGC remains the epicenter of threats to international peace and security – to regional and Middle East stability – and is now involved also in the brutal Syrian crackdown on its people, in the beatings, killings and torture, constitutive of crimes against humanity.
US officials have recently acknowledged that aid from Iran to Syria “is increasing, and is increasingly focused on lethal assistance.” Syrian army defectors tell of Iran’s involvement in summary executions, torture and other atrocities carried out against civilians, including the torture of hospital residents.
What is more, the Revolutionary Guard Corps has been at the forefront of a long-standing global campaign of terror against perceived opponents of the regime. The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center has linked senior regime officials to the extrajudicial murder of at least 162 political activists in 18 countries from East Asia through Western Europe to the United States. In a particularly brazen incident, Iranian agents assassinated four Kurdish activists at a Berlin restaurant in 1992.
A Berlin court concluded that “Iran’s political leadership ordered the crime.”
By its ongoing and escalating state-sponsored terror on foreign soil, Iran is in standing violation of every canon of domestic and international law.
Moreover, while the depth and breadth of Iranian terrorism is seemingly expanding, such escalation and expansion dovetail and converge with the Iranian fourfold threat: nuclear weaponization; incitement to genocide; state-sponsorship of international terrorism; and, increasingly and alarmingly so, massive domestic repression – the whole underpinned with incendiary rhetoric.
Indeed, Iran’s state sponsorship of international terrorism cannot be viewed in isolation from the genocidal incitement of Iran’s theocratic leadership, as expressed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in an interview declaring that there is “jurisprudential justification” to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel, and that Iran must take the helm.
Nor can it be ignored that Hezbollah, Iran’s terror proxy, is not just a terrorist entity — though this would be bad enough. It has an objective that is genocidal, anchored in an anti-Semitic ideology, using terrorism as an instrument for pursuing objectives — not unlike its Iranian patron. Indeed, by training, arming, financing and instigating groups like Hezbollah, the Iranian regime gives violent expression to the genocidal narrative of its leadership.
Moreover, the convergence of Iranian state-sanctioned incitement to genocide with its state-sponsored terrorism has not suddenly emerged in the context of the current standoff with the West over the Iranian nuclear weaponization program. Rather, there have been a series of waves of Iranian and Hezbollah terrorist assaults against Israeli and Jewish targets – themselves not unrelated to a larger Iranian strategic design.
For example, the terrorist campaign of 1994-1995 included an aborted March 1994 truck bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok; the horrific July 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center (AMIA); the sometimes forgotten suicide bombing – also in July 1994 – of a commuter aircraft in Panama, 12 of whose 21 victims were Jews; and a planned 1995 Hezbollah cell attack on the Israeli Embassy in Singapore – all of which reflected an Iranian retaliatory strategy as in the punishment of Argentina for suspending nuclear technology transfers to Iran.
Iran’s state sponsorship of international terrorism cannot be viewed in isolation from the genocidal incitement of Iran’s theocratic leadership
Similarly, the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war itself was an expression – as Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged – of Iranian instruction, while the present wave of attacks appear designed to target what have been called “soft countries” in Asia and Africa – and “soft targets,” like Israeli tourists or local Jewish communities, which are more vulnerable to such attacks; where Iranian and Hezbollah perpetrators are unlikely to be held to account; and where attention is deflected away from the Iranian nuclear weaponization program, let alone enticing Israel to respond against Iranian proxies rather than against Iran itself.
Moreover, in a particularly chilling – yet surprisingly ignored – reminder of Iran’s no-holds-barred capacity to engage in state-sponsored terrorism in association with the most deadly of terrorist groups, Al-Qaeda, a New York Federal District Court ruled in December 2001 that Tehran materially and directly supported al-Qaida’s devastating September 11 attacks on the United States.
The court’s findings included:
• Proof that a Revolutionary Guard contingency plan for unconventional warfare against the US included a plan to crash hijacked airlines into the World Trade Centres and the Pentagon.
• Proof of coded messages from an Iranian government official during the weeks before 9/11 to the effect that the aforementioned plan had been activated.
• Evidence that Iran facilitated the escape of al-Qaida leadership from Afghanistan during the US invasion.
• Evidence that Ali Khamenei was aware of the 9/11 attacks as early as May 2001.
• Evidence that senior Hezbollah operatives met with the 9/11 hijackers in the months leading up to the attacks.
Accordingly, given the clear and compelling evidence of the escalating Iranian state sponsorship of international terrorism – and the increasing targeting of diplomats – the question arises: What then, can the international community do to combat this dangerous wave of international terror, sometimes sanitized by the reference to “soft countries” and “soft targets”? More particularly, what must the international community do to not only combat this wave of terror, but hold the perpetrators to account, lest a culture of impunity continue to encourage the terrorism itself?
First, all states have the responsibility to invoke the legal, diplomatic, economic and political instruments at their disposal to confront Iranian terrorist aggression. These instruments include, but are certainly not limited to, increasing bilateral and multilateral diplomatic and economic sanctions; the mobilization of political pressure to isolate the Iranian regime as a pariah among the nations; the naming and shaming of the Iranian perpetrators and their Hezbollah proxies to combat plausible Iranian deniability of their culpability; and the bringing of these perpetrators to justice.
Second, and more specifically, state parties to the Genocide Convention should initiate interstate complaints before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Iran – also a state party to the Genocide Convention – for its incitement to genocide, a standing violation of the Convention.
Third, states must hold Iran accountable for its attacks against diplomats, pursuant to the Islamic Republic’s obligations under Article 13 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents, which it ratified in 1978.
Hezbollah and its proxies must be held to account through increased and enhanced sanctions, blacklisting and the like. Indeed, pressure must be placed on the EU to finally blacklist the terror group, as Canada and others have done
Fourth, the international community should invoke the panoply of legal remedies against the Iranian regime and its terrorist agents, including: states should list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an organization that has been at the vanguard of the Islamic Republic’s campaign of state terrorism, as a terrorist entity; the Argentinean judiciary’s decision – and resulting Interpol arrest warrants – should be enforced; civil suits should be instituted where appropriate against Iran and its terrorist agents for its perpetration of acts of terror; and, the principle of universal jurisdiction should be invoked to hold Iran’s leaders – under indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity – accountable.
Fifth, Hezbollah and its proxies must be held to account through increased and enhanced sanctions, blacklisting and the like. Indeed, pressure must be placed on the EU to finally blacklist the terror group, as Canada and others have done.
Sixth, Israel – as the leading target for this Iranian wave of terror – should be included in anti-terror cooperation discussions and international forums, such as the recently established US-sponsored Global Counter-Terrorism Forum. It is shocking that Israel was excluded from such a forum given not only the horror of its experience, but the extent of its anti-terror expertise. Indeed, global security and cooperation efforts must include Israel if they are to be effective and successful for all concerned.
Simply put, the recent wave of terrorist attacks must serve as a wake-up call for the necessary action to be taken by the international community to combat this culture of incitement, terror and impunity. Indeed, history teaches us that a sustained and coordinated international response is required to combat such grave threats to international peace and security. We must act now to hold Iran’s state-sanctioned terror to account, lest more lives be lost. Such Iranian state-sanctioned terror is a chilling warning of what dangers await the international community should Iran become a nuclear power.
Irwin Cotler is a member of the Canadian Parliament, emeritus professor of law at McGill University and a former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is the Canadian representative on the International Parliamentary Coalition Against Terrorism and has initiated a series of civil and criminal remedies to combat terror.