There is increasing – and compelling – evidence of Iranian footprints in a series of recent aborted terrorist attacks in India, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Thailand. The Indian police have just reported that the Iranian connection to the bombing of an Israeli Embassy car in New Delhi has been “conclusively established,” and that the bombing is connected to a botched attack targeting Israeli consular staff in Bangkok. Thai officials have now detained three Iranian nationals in connection with the attacks, while a fourth has been detained in Malaysia. Similarly, an Indian journalist with close ties to the notorious Iranian Quds Force was also arrested last week for facilitating the New Delhi attack, while an Indian court has now issued arrest warrants for three other Iranian nationals in connection with the bombing.
And more: Two other Iranian nationals suspected of involvement in the Thai attack, including the alleged mastermind who is presently in Iran, remain fugitives. In addition, Thai investigators have released photos of unexploded bombs found in the home of one of the suspects, which are strikingly similar to those used in the Georgian and Indian attacks. And in what is perhaps the most shocking – albeit least reported – development yet, Azerbaijani police are reporting that they are detaining nearly two dozen people for allegedly plotting attacks on the country’s U.S. and Israeli Embassies and other Jewish and Western targets. According to initial reports, a number of the operatives were trained in Iranian military camps and armed by its intelligence agency.
Given the clear and compelling evidence of Iranian involvement, these attacks constitute a major Iranian escalation in its state sponsorship of international terrorism and in the systematic targeting of diplomatic missions in defiance of peremptory norms of international law. Such an escalation dovetails with the converging Iranian fourfold threat – nuclear, incitement, terrorism, massive domestic repression – and its corresponding incendiary rhetoric which finds increasing expression in the regime’s serial use of terrorist violence as a central tenet of its foreign policy.
Indeed, the recent web of attacks comes in the aftermath of ominous warnings by Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the spokesperson for Iran’s Joint Armed Forces Staff that “the enemies of the Iranian nation, especially the United States, Britain and the Zionist regime have to be held responsible for their activities.” Senior Iranian officials have also recently warned of their intention to strike Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide.
In particular, since the fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, Iran’s escalating rhetoric has been accompanied by increasingly brazen terrorist acts and attempts. In what has become an annual tradition, Iran was once again designated by the US State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism as “the most active state sponsor of terrorism.” The United States’ recent indictment of senior Iranian officials, accused of orchestrating an elaborate plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington is but the latest example. 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 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 be noted that the notorious Quds Force – the terrorist agency of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp – has been implicated, along with other Iranian state agencies, in Iranian state terror, and has been involved 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 epicentre 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 own people, including widespread and systematic beatings, killings, kidnapping 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,” while 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 Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp 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 eighteen 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.
Iran also continues to act as chief patron of Hamas and Hezbollah – and increasingly also the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees. These groups – particularly Hamas and Hezbollah – are not just terrorist entities, though this would be bad enough. But they have an objective which is genocidal – an ideology which is anti-Jewish – not because I say so but because their charters proclaim it – and where terrorism is an instrument for the implementation of their objectives. The recent attacks – all of which targeted Israeli and Jewish institutions – also bore the hallmark of Hezbollah, and follow the January arrest of one of the Hezbollah operatives suspected of planning the attacks in Bangkok. Hezbollah has also been accused of acting at the behest of Iran in the escalating terrorism in Homs, Syria.
The spate of violence is particularly worrying given the recent and incendiary pronouncements by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khameinei, to the effect that Israel is a “cancerous tumour” that must be eradicated, and will be eradicated. Lest there be any ambiguity as to the genocidal intent of Iran’s clerical and political leadership, the Supreme Leader explained in a subsequent interview that there is a “jurisprudential justification to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel and that Iran must take the helm.” By training, arming, financing and instigating groups like Hezbollah, the Iranian regime gives violent expression to the genocidal narrative of its leadership.
Indeed, the convergence of Iranian state-sanctioned incitement to genocide and 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, since the early days of the Islamic Revolution, Iranian terrorist threats have materialized into attacks against civilians around the globe. For example, this past weekend marked the twentieth anniversary of the brutal 1992 terrorist attack on Israel’s Embassy in Argentina. Two years later, Argentina was again the scene of a stunning act of anti-Jewish brutality, when a bomb tore through Argentina’s Jewish Community Centre (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. The Argentinian Minister of Justice advised me that the AMIA attack “was the worst terrorist atrocity in Argentina since the Second World War.”
In the 1994 terrorist attack – unlike the 1992 attack whose perpetrators remain unknown, but where an Iranian connection is suspect – the Argentine Judiciary concluded that the AMIA attack, which killed 85 people and wounded 300 others, was planned, orchestrated and implemented at the highest echelons of the Iranian leadership, including both the office of the Iranian President and the Iranian Embassy in Argentina. Yet, to date, not one Iranian official has been brought to Justice for the attack. On the contrary – and reflective of the culture of impunity that reigns in Iran – Ahmed Vahidi, wanted by Interpol for his role as an organizer of the Argentinian bombing, currently serves as Iran’s Defense Minister. In a mocking act of defiance, Vahidi was appointed Minister of Defense in 2009 – being Ahmadinejad’s clenched fist response to Obama’s “outstretched hand” during Obama’s year of engagement with Iran.
In a particularly chilling reminder of Iran’s no holds barred capacity to engage in state sponsored terrorism in association with the most deadly of terrorist groups, a New York Federal District Court ruled in December that Tehran materially and directly supported al Qaeda’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 Qaeda 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.
Given the evidence of the escalating Iranian state sponsorship of international terrorism – and the increasing targeting of diplomats – 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 nations; and invoking legal remedies against the Iranian regime and its terrorist agents.
Specifically, State Parties to the Genocide Convention should initiate inter-state complaints before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Iran – also a state party to the Genocide Convention – for its incitement to genocide, a violation of the Convention. Similarly, states may bring Iran before the ICJ 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. States should also 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 – now under indictment for terrorist crimes – accountable. Ahmed Vahidi, such an indicted criminal, should not be able to travel freely with impunity.
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 peace and security. We must act now to hold Iran 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 Coalition Against Terrorism and has initiated a series of civil and criminal remedies to combat terror