The Iranian Revolutionary Guards' capture-at-gunpoint of 15 British sailors in the waters off the Iraqi coast last week was a brazen act in every respect. But, it was only the latest in the long chain of the Iranian regime's outlaw behavior over the past two decades.
This act of belligerence, just before the United Nations Security Council adopted a second sanction resolution against Tehran, was a reminder that no matter how generous the incentives and how willing the gullible Europeans to offer them, Tehran is not about to abandon its nuclear weapons program, which it considers to be indispensable to its strategic survival.
And how have the British government reacted so far? Quite pathetic to say the least, still holding out the hope that it could convince the mullahs to release the captives through negotiations. Meanwhile, the sailors continue to "confess" and "write letters of apology."
Neither the Iranian regime's bullying nor United Kingdom's feeble response, however, was atypical. In fact, every time the mullahs are caught red handed the ever-appeasing Europeans have merely slapped the turbaned despots on the wrist.
Flash back August 2002: when the Iranian opposition coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), revealed Tehran's 18-year secret nuclear program, what did the Europeans do? They offered to maintain the principal Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin (PMOI) on their terrorist watch list in return for the mullahs' compliance.
Even after the Security Council's watered-downed and long-overdue resolution passed last Saturday, the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he could not wait to begin talks with his Iranian counterpart. "The European Union wants a better, closer relationship with Iran," insisted Solana. How closer could one get with a pariah state which brutalizes its own citizens, incites carnage in neighboring Iraq, foments conflict in the fertile crescent, pursues nuclear and WMD weapons and abducts coalition soldiers in broad daylight? Too bad Neville Chamberlain did not live to see his European colleagues today. He would have felt vindicated. During his time, Czechoslovakia was the price tag for "peace in our time." Today, 70 million Iranians and their resistance movement is the sacrificial lamb in the Franco-British-led European game of brinksmanship with the conniving mullahs of Tehran.
Case in point: In a landmark ruing on December 12, 2006, Europe's second highest court, the Court of the First Instance in Luxembourg, overturned the European Union's decision to brand the principal Iranian opposition movement, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), as terrorist.
In its 41-page ruling, the Court also affirmed that, 'the PMOI was founded in 1965 and set itself the objective of replacing the regime of the Shah of Iran, then the mullahs' regime, by a democracy.".
You would think that with such a clear ruling, the EU would move swiftly to undo an act that had been politically motivated in the first place. Not so! Some officials, especially in Britain, argued that the removal of the PMOI from the list would send the theocrats ruling Iran that European policy had shifted to regime change, since the PMOI is the most viable actor for change in Iran.
By refusing to comply with the ruling of one of its own institutions and insisting that it would maintain the PMOI on its blacklist, the EU made a mockery of the rule of law. This, of course, is not unique to the Europeans. In 1997, the U.S. State Department decided, as acknowledged by then-Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Martyn Indyk, to send "a signal" of the U.S.'s desire for rapprochement with Tehran's so-called reformists. Then, too, the victim was the PMOI, which was labeled as terrorist. "President Khatami's government considered it a pretty big deal," he was quoted as saying, in November.
For years, Iran’s rulers made it clear that marginalizing the resistance was a strong sign of willingness to placate them. Western diplomats, in a search for illusory moderates within the clerical establishment, disgracefully acquiesced to the mullahs’ demands to blacklist the resistance in return for lucrative commerce. But the moderate fantasy completely ran aground when the regime's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, managed to propel the election Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a diehard revolutionary guard commander and a Holocaust-denier, to presidency.
So what are the options now? As NCRI's President-elect Maryam Rajavi told 30,000 cheering supporters in Brussels earlier this month, appeasement has proven futile and a foreign war would be a recipe for disaster. The viable option, as she put it, was democratic change by the Iranian people and their organized resistance.
Ironically, the EU court ruling, coupled with the Security Council's sanction resolution, offers the West a face-saving way out of its policy statement vis-à-vis Tehran. The EU should simply abide by the Court ruling and the U.S. should review the terrorist labeling of the PMOI. Such a move would free up the focal point of the organized opposition to the regime in Tehran. This would encourage the Iranian people to step up their struggle, and strengthen the international community's position in dealing with the Tehran's nuclear defiance and efforts to destabilize Iraq.
General Douglas MacArthur who stood up to threat of fascism during World War II, once said: "There is no security on this earth, there is only opportunity." Now is the time to grab the opportunity in dealing with Tehran’s tyrants to make the earth more secure.Ali Safavi, of the Iranian National Council of Resistance, is president of Near East Policy Research, a policy analysis firm in Washington, DC.