[Opinion] Time for bolder action against Iran

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David Wollach argues for a more assertive approach of the European Union against the violent crackdown in the Islamic Republic.

The European Union’s reaction to Russia’s unjustified aggression came too late and was initially too weak, in spite of the fact that clear warnings existed beforehand. At least, the EU did take a clear stand towards the Kremlin. Well over a thousand Russians are now under sanctions. Their assets in the EU have been frozen. They are banned from entering EU territory. 

More importantly, since February, unprecedented military support and financial aid has been granted to Ukraine by the EU and EU member states, which has helped to tilt the situation on the battlefield in favour of Kyiv.

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Protestors take part during a demonstration in front of the Iranian embassy in Brussels, Belgium on Sept. 23, 2022, following the death of Mahsa Amini. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock.

However, with respect to the nuclear threat posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and to the revolution unleashed by Iranian women following the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Iranian regime, the EU is once again acting in a way that lacks vision and a clear message.

Yes, the leaders of the European Union have condemned the brutal actions of Iran’s regime, which have already resulted in the death of dozens of people. Yes, last week, sanctions against 14 individuals and five entities of the regime were adopted.

“Borrell should ask himself: Has diplomacy not run its course, after years of failed efforts to rein in Iran’s uranium enrichment activities?”

Yet the EU High Representative Josep Borrell and his team still seem to believe that by signing a nuclear deal with the Iranian regime the Middle East could somehow become a safer place. In the present situation, with the knowledge we have about the regime and its covert activities, that is not just wishful thinking, it is downright dangerous. Borrell should ask himself: Has diplomacy not run its course, after years of failed efforts to rein in Iran’s uranium enrichment activities? Surely, the EU foreign affairs chief and other EU officials recognise by now the nature of the regime.

It is one that constantly wages war, commits acts of terror worldwide, sponsors and arms terrorist groups and meddles in the affairs of other countries. Can one really sign diplomatic agreements with a government run by one and the same unelected, hard-line ayatollah for 33 years? 

With a regime that behaves like in the Middle Ages and beats up women who do not obey the restrictive dress code? With a regime that keeps its own population in poverty while permitting a small number of people to enrich themselves? Where is Europe’s anti-corruption drive?

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Washington, DC – October 22, 2022: Iranian Americans rallied near the US Capitol in support of and solidarity for the overthrow of the government in Iran in the aftermath killing of Mahsa Amini. Photo: Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock.

The EU is not just an economic powerhouse, it also represents certain principles. If it wants to preserve this privileged position, the EU must uphold its values not just towards its own citizens, but to the rest of the world, too. The key question is: Can we afford to wait and withhold support for the Iranian people until Russia’s war in Ukraine is over, just because we don’t want to risk rising energy prices? If we do not act now against Iran, we will not only let down Iran’s courageous women and permit another bloodbath in Iran and thus betray our values. We might also pave the way to another conflict on Europe’s doorstep – and perhaps another wave of refugees.

Putting a handful of regime representatives on the EU sanctions list alone will not help the people of Iran. There needs to be a stronger push. The EU must rethink its Iran policy and take a much firmer stance. The talks with Iran over the JCPOA should be halted immediately. They have so far benefited only one side: Iran. Instead, economic sanctions against the regime and its institutions should be re-imposed with immediate effect. They ought to be targeted at undermining Iran’s ability to arm and enrich itself. Such a decision would send the strong signal that is needed now.

“Do we really want to become dependent on the Iranian dictators?”

Moreover, the EU should also reassess its commercial ties with Iran. Of course, economic interests and the need to secure energy supplies are legitimate objectives. But do we really want to become dependent on the Iranian dictators? As we have seen with Russia, making oneself economically dependent on rogue regimes comes attached with a big price tag. Europe should not make the same mistake twice. Moreover, Iran is undermining European sanctions and siding openly with Russia. We cannot continue to be blind to that fact either. It is time for the European Union to take bold action. Citizens expect that from their EU leaders.

David Wollach is a Swiss businessman. He is a co-founder and director of EU Watch.

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