Charlie Weimers, Swedish politician and member of the European Parliament, spoke to a November 18 Middle East Forum Webinar (video). The following summarizes his comments:
The Islamic Republic of Iran, the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism, extends its reach throughout the Middle East, Europe, the U.S., and beyond. The regime wreaks regional havoc via proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shia militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthis in Yemen. At Tehran's direction, "Iranian interference" in regional conflicts is seen in the "deadly" Iranian drones supplied to Russia, which employs them in its war against Ukraine. The damage is not confined to the regime's foreign relations: domestically, "it represses its own population and persecutes minority groups." To maintain its grip on the Iranian people, the regime executes its domestic critics and even "poisoned its own girls and women."
The mullahs' refusal to compromise on Iran's "nuclear and ballistic missiles programs" is a ploy used to manipulate and intimidate Western appeasers. Another "classic Islamic regime tactic" Tehran has used against the West since the 1979 Islamic revolution's siege of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is "hostage diplomacy." This tactic exerts political pressure and exacts concessions from targeted countries.
In the Gaza war "forced" upon Israel following Hamas's October 7th invasion and massacre of Israeli civilians, Hamas, via Qatar, is leveraging hostages taken in the attack to wrest concessions from Israel. "Iran's fingerprints" are evident in this war. In the last decade, the range of Iranian-made rockets launched by Hamas from the Gaza Strip in Israel's south and by Hezbollah from Lebanon at Israel's northern border has only increased.
Hezbollah's escalation risks expanding the local conflict into a regional one, even as the European media largely "disregard Israel's significant security threats and conflict narrative" in their scant reportage on the daily rocket barrages on Israel's main city centers and smaller towns. Hezbollah's specious claim that it "disassociate[s] itself" from Hamas's launch of the October 7th attack against Israel is implausible because Hezbollah's decision to attack Israel from the north is at Tehran's behest.
As Iranian terror proxies organize across the region, the European response under Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union (EU) for foreign affairs and security policy, is that "critical engagement" with Iran is necessary. Borrell is under the mistaken belief that dialogue with the mullahs will resuscitate the moribund nuclear deal. He is a "foreign affairs disaster" who is weak in his condemnations of Iran's hostage diplomacy and its impact on European citizens, in his condemnation of Iran's violation of human rights, and in the false arguments he uses to avoid proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.
French President Emmanuel Macron talks tough but makes empty promises and backtracked on pronouncements against Hezbollah. Macron sometimes "hints at the possibility of proscribing the IRGC," but sends "mixed signals" because he still hopes to revive the nuclear deal. Germany also engages with the Iranian regime and is criticized by those who demand harsher responses. The inaction of these politicians suggests that, even in the worst-case scenario of a nuclear Iran, we would "probably see even more détente vis-à-vis the regime in Tehran."
There is also the financial cost if politicians were to jeopardize "trade contracts" with Iran that, in essence, are made with the IRGC, which controls Iran's economy. Politicians who do not realize that a future Iran "built on [a] market economy and capitalist principles" holds a much greater trade potential suffer from "a lack of imagination."
There are a few encouraging exceptions to the appeasement trend. Thus, Sweden's parliament adopted a resolution to "work in favor of a proscription," while the Netherlands has already proscribed the IRGC. Other countries with anti-Islamic regime parties that are closing in on victory, along with existing anti-Islamist governments such as Italy's under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, can provide the momentum for a consensus on proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist organization.
Four decisive steps would change the political calculus in addressing Europe's "nonresponses" to Tehran's mullahs:
First, sanction Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei by name.
Second, to level a blow against Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, the EU and member states should "sanction the IRGC as soon as possible." European citizens can use its courts to "call for compensation against Iranian terror impacting Europeans" and make the case for proscribing the IRGC "nationally, as well as on the EU level."
Establishing "direct linkages" between the IRGC and terror events, as in the cases of Hamas's October 7 attack, the hostage taking of European citizens, and the recent attempted assassination in Spain of a European politician and longtime regime critic, will further support the EU's efforts to proscribe the IRGC.
Third, "scrap all negotiations" on any possible nuclear deal with Iran. The regime continues to "increase its stockpile of uranium enrichment to nearly weapons-grade levels" and obstructs monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Send the message to the mullah that the "international community does not wish to be played for fools anymore."
Fourth, seeking diplomatic solutions with a country like Iran that threatens European and U.S. security is useless. EU and member states "need to expel all Iranian diplomats from Europe," while concomitantly strengthening its relations with the "democratic Iranian opposition" to plan for the day after the regime falls. The most important step for the Iranian opposition to take is the formation of a united front to encourage the European leaders to engage with it.
Adopting these four points will exert maximum pressure on the regime, weaken its stranglehold domestically and abroad, and expedite the democratic change embraced by the opposition. The EU's inaction is a consequence of its "idealist" foreign policy view that soft power is the preferred option. This policy ignores the "efforts of the Iranian people to really reconcile freedom with the presence of Islam in its country."
European politicians are also driven by the fear of being labeled "Islamophobic" if they take on the Islamist ideology controlling Iran that is also rife throughout Europe's Muslim communities. A "post-Christian" Europe lacks the understanding of the power of religion in guiding the regime. This deficit handicaps European leaders, who project their own worldview onto the ayatollahs – a crippling shortsightedness in dealing with mullahs who hold "eschatological" beliefs.
To counter Iran, "transatlantic relations" are critical. A "naïve" European political establishment needs to be held accountable by the citizens of Europe and the Iranian diaspora who will be voting in upcoming EU elections. By doing so, they can play an important role by having their voices heard.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.