As EU foreign ministers prepare to meet later this month in Brussels to determine whether a consensus exists to declare Hezbollah – or part of it – a terrorist organization, five disparate developments have converged to document the Iranian-Hezbollah terrorist connection – and to make the compelling case for the EU to not only designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, but to undertake a panoply of anti-terrorist remedies against both Iran and Hezbollah.
First, on the eve of the first anniversary of the bombing of a tourist bus in Bulgaria last July 19 that killed six people – including five Israelis – and injured dozens more, Bulgarian authorities have confirmed once again Hezbollah’s responsibility for this attack.
Second, in its annual Country Reports on Terrorism, the US State Department documented “a clear resurgence of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism” and that of “Tehran’s ally Hezbollah.” The report finds that “Hezbollah’s terrorist activity has reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s.”
Third, recent court cases in Kenya and Nigeria convicting Iranian and Hezbollah operatives of involvement in terrorist activity are evidence of the expanding Iranian- Hezbollah terrorist network in both East and West Africa, and demonstrate how Africa can become a beachhead for terrorism against American, European and Israeli – as well as African – targets.
Fourth, the Iranian-Hezbollah strategic partnership has intensified its involvement in Syria – and its complicity in crimes against humanity against the Syrian people – while Syria itself is increasingly an Iranian protectorate.
Indeed, this week, the United Nations Security Council called for “all Lebanese parties” to withdraw from Syria. Due to Russian objections, Hezbollah was not mentioned by name, but it is clear that the Security Council was referring to the thousands of Hezbollah fighters who have been helping Bashar Assad combat rebel forces.
Finally, Argentinean Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman – who has spent the last eight years investigating the bombing of a Jewish cultural centre (AMIA) in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 87 people and injured more than 300 – released a 500-page report last month documenting the Iranian-Hezbollah penetration of Latin America that has been used “to execute terrorist attacks whenever the Iranian regime decides so, both directly or through its proxy, the terrorist organization Hezbollah.”
In an eerie but not unrevealing coincidence, the Bulgarian bombing took place on the 18th anniversary of the AMIA attack, which the Argentinean minister of justice described to me as the greatest terrorist atrocity in Argentina since the end of the Second World War.
In his report, Special Prosecutor Nisman notes “the distinctive terrorist pattern created by the ayatollah’s regime, which is characterized by the dual use of diplomatic officers, cultural or charity associations and even mosques” to plan, orchestrate, carry out, and provide cover for terrorist operations.
Indeed, as we approach the 19th anniversary of the AMIA bombing, Nisman’s exhaustive 800-page report from 2006 bears recall both for its finding of fact and conclusions of law regarding the AMIA terrorist bombing, and for its nexus to the current spate of terrorist attacks targeting Jewish and Israeli nationals.
First, Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman concluded that the mass terrorist bombing was conceived, planned and ordered by the “highest echelons in the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In other words, this was not the act of “a radical faction” within Iran. It was a state-orchestrated act of mass terror.
Accordingly, the Argentinean state prosecutors called for national and international arrest warrants to be issued for former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and former members of his government, including thenminister of intelligence and security Ali Fallahian, then-foreign minister Ali Velayati and the former general commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Mohsen Rezai.
Interestingly enough, two of the eight preapproved candidates in the Iranian presidential election were the same Mohsen Rezai and Ali Velayati who are the subjects of INTERPOL Red Notices in connection with their roles in the 1994 bombing.
Second, the report documented the central role of Hezbollah in carrying out the AMIA attack, characterizing it as the “terrorist proxy of the Iranian regime.” As such, it called for the arrest of Imad Mugniyeh, the head of the Foreign Security Service of Hezbollah at the time of the attack. The report further identified the driver of the vehicle used in the suicide bombing attack as being a Hezbollah operative.
Third, the report stressed – something which is often overlooked or forgotten – that the attack must be seen as an act of anti-Jewish terrorism. “Any interpretation of the terrorist attack that ignores this salient characteristic,” they wrote, “runs the risk of sinning by omission.”
Fourth, the report referred to the vast Iranian intelligence and operational structure that had “infiltrated” Buenos Aires, while documenting the extra-territorial terrorist tentacles of the Iranian regime.
Included in this structure were the Iranian Embassy and extremist elements in Shi’ite mosques identified in the report. In addition, the report noted that Iranian ambassadors in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay departed from their respective embassies a few days prior to the attack.
Finally, and again with ominous implications for Iran’s nuclear weaponization program, Special Prosecutor Nisman wrote: “We can also prove that a pivotal motivation for the attack was Argentina’s decision to cancel the contracts for providing nuclear technology and arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
In particular, as referenced above, the Argentinean terrorist bombing presaged the increasing and compelling evidence of Iranian and Hezbollah footprints in a series of terrorist attacks throughout 2011 and 2012 – and even into 2013 – which spanned five continents, and has included countries such as Kenya, Turkey, Cyprus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Singapore and the US.
Given the clear and compelling evidence of the escalating Iranian state sponsorship of international terrorism – and of the complicity of Hezbollah – the question arises: What can the international community do to combat this dangerous wave of international terror? And what must the international community do to hold the perpetrators to account, lest a culture of impunity continue to encourage terrorist acts? First, 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 the nations; the naming and shaming of the Iranian perpetrators and their Hezbollah proxies to combat plausible Iranian deniability of their culpability; and the bringing of these perpetrators to justice.
Second, and more specifically, state parties to the Genocide Convention should initiate interstate complaints before the International Court of Justice against Iran – also a state party to the Genocide Convention – for its incitement to genocide, a standing violation of the convention.
Third, states must hold Iran accountable 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.
Fourth, the international community should invoke the panoply of legal remedies against the Iranian regime and its terrorist agents, including: States should 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 former Iranian leaders – under indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity – to account.
Fifth, Hezbollah and its proxies must be held accountable through increased and enhanced sanctions, blacklisting and the like. Indeed, the EU must finally blacklist the Hezbollah terror group, as Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands have done, lest it make a mockery of the rule of law and encourage further Hezbollah terrorism.
Sixth, Israel – as the leading target for this Iranian wave of terror – should be included in anti-terror cooperation discussions and international forums, such as the recently established US-sponsored Global Counter- Terrorism Forum. It is shocking that Israel was excluded from such a forum given not only the horror of its experience, but the extent of its anti-terror expertise. Global security and cooperation efforts must include Israel if they are to be effective and successful for all concerned.
Simply put, the recent wave of terrorist attacks must serve as a wake-up call for the international community, which must act to combat this culture of incitement, terror and impunity. History teaches us that a sustained and coordinated international response is required to combat such grave threats to international peace and security. We must act now to hold Iran and Hezbollah to account, lest more lives be lost.
Irwin Cotler is a Canadian member of Parliament, professor of law (emeritus) at McGill University in Montreal, and a former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is the Canadian representative on the International Parliamentary Coalition Against Terrorism and has initiated a series of civil and criminal remedies to combat terror.