This week, it was confirmed that Iran has stockpiled low-enriched uranium beyond the limits of the 2015 deal on its nuclear program, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Tehran’s willing breach follows a string of military provocations that have occurred since May.
European powers are deeply invested in the JCPOA, which was the joint result of negotiations among the so-called P5+1, which included France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Yet Europe’s reaction to Iran’s recent provocations has been sadly predictable. Responding to the shooting-down of a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said she would try to “open channels of communication to and make sure escalation is avoided.” Responding to attacks against tankers off the coast of Oman, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, perhaps Iran’s greatest enabler in Europe, said that footage of the attacks presented by the U.S. military was not enough. An aid to Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, demanded “credible” proof of Iranian culpability. Responding to Iran’s ultimatum to enrich uranium beyond the limits enacted by the 2015 deal, French President Emmanuel Macron called for talks before the July 8 deadline. If questioning the United States while asking Iran for talks is the European game plan for Iran, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei must be delighted.
Iran admitted to downing the U.S. drone, and prior to the tanker attacks, Iran repeatedly said it would block the Strait of Hormuz if it is unable to export oil. Today, Iran’s ability to sell oil has been strangled by U.S. sanctions that were imposed following the U.S. withdrawal from the flawed 2015 nuclear deal. Iran chose to shoot down the U.S. drone. Iran chose to attack six tankers. Iran chose to turn back on compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran’s economy now is suffering from Iran’s choices, and we should expect Iran to continue waging its brand of hybrid warfare, which, as other commentators have noted, includes terrorism and cyberattacks.
It is long past time for European leaders to recognize that Iran has no interest in peace in the Middle East. The 2015 nuclear deal did nothing to alter Iran’s 40-year foreign-policy effort to achieve ideological and territorial hegemony in its region. Tehran’s rogue behavior over the last few weeks is in line with its actions since 2015. Following the deal, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, propped up the monstrous Bashar al Assad regime in Syria that used chemical weapons against its own people, caused half a million deaths, and displaced millions from their homes. Following the deal, Iran continued to support Hamas, an organization that routinely fires rockets into Israel and commits acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians. Following the deal, Iran sponsored a Houthi rebellion in Yemen that has resulted in a civil war and more than 70,000 deaths.
Not only is Iran a bad actor in the Middle East, but following the deal, Iran plotted terror attacks in Europe. In 2016, Iranian agents plotted attacks in Albania -- possibly targeting a soccer match. The Iranian ambassador to Albania was one of the plotters. In 2018, an Iranian diplomat based in Vienna, Austria, was arrested for planning to bomb a rally of Iranian dissidents in Paris, France. Also in 2018, Denmark accused Iranian intelligence of seeking to assassinate an Iranian exile living in Denmark. The Danish government pushed for EU sanctions against Iran, but the European Union failed to act.
For too long Iran has taken advantage of European hopes to tame Iran through talks and international accords and to open the country up as a lucrative export market. Iran knows that Europe invested heavily in the success of the 2015 nuclear deal. Breaching the deal’s limits was calculated to deepen the policy wedge that exists between European leaders and the United States. Europe must now reckon with its bad investment in Iran, cut its losses, and work with Washington to push back against Iran’s bad behavior. A tough stance instead of weak words is Europe’s best chance for de-escalating a tense situation.