In March 1979, shortly after the mullahs grabbed power and dragged Iran into theocratic dictatorship, destructive wars and terrorism, Iranian women took to the streets to protest the forced hijab. “Freedom is not eastern, not western, it is universal,” they chanted.
Almost 40 years later, the Iranian people are still fighting the same tyrants. In the struggle for freedom, you would expect an institution like the European Union, defined by the universal character of liberty and democracy, to stand in solidarity with the oppressed against their oppressors.
So far Europe has sent the opposite message. “We are not going to sustain political and economic relations with a country engaged in the brutal oppression of peaceful protesters,” are the words Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, never uttered. Instead, she remained silent for six days.
When she finally broke her silence, Mogherini’s message was tainted by moral myopia. “We expect all concerned to refrain from violence,” she said, after Iranian security forces had already killed at least 22 people and incarcerated more than 3,000. The EU statement echoed earlier ambiguous messages from the British, German, French and Swedish governments.
The EU’s cowardly reaction contrasts with the strong response from the United States. Lawmakers from the left and right of the political spectrum – everyone from President Donald Trump and Marco Rubio to Bernie Sanders and Bob Menendez – responded to the call for freedom in Iran.
Last week, Mogherini invited Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to Brussels for more discussions on the Iran nuclear deal. And that’s the crux of the matter: the anti-democratic effect the agreement is having on world affairs.
Sweden’s representative to the United Nations put it bluntly, after the US had called for an emergency session in the Security Council. “Human rights violations in Iran must be separated from [the Iran nuclear deal],” he said.
Compromised by the prospect of lucrative business deals with Iran and the delusion that President Rouhani is an agent of change, Europe has lost its way. Instead of safeguarding the Iranian people, they protected the nuclear accord and boycotted efforts by the Trump administration to hold the regime in Tehran accountable for their unspeakable crimes.
It is not without reason that protesters across Iran call for an end to the mullah’s military adventurism and sponsorship of terror. “We don’t want the Islamic Republic,” they chant, “Leave Syria, leave Gaza, leave Lebanon.” They fight a regime that asserts theocratic domination through worldwide terrorist acts and hegemonic wars in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen without any regard for losses.
Europe’s unwillingness to clip Iran’s wings of terror and oppression makes America’s leadership more critical. Not for the first time has Washington been at odds with European governments since Trump was elected president. Whether the historical announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or courageous efforts to confront blatant anti-Semitism at the United Nations, America has sometimes stood proudest when it has stood alone.
Building on its tough line on the nuclear accord and the terror designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, America can lead the way again.
The IRGC controls most of the country’s economy and the Quds Force, the IRGC’s foreign espionage and paramilitary wing, spearheads the Islamic Republic’s foreign operations. Yet European leaders encourage companies to invest in Iran, thus funding the IRGC and the Islamic Republic’s illicit activities.
By linking the regime’s treatment of its people to economic and political engagement, America can hit the mullah regime where it hurts most. Congress should act and cut off the financial lifelines the regime uses to fund its human rights violations: The Central Bank of Iran and EIKO, the Supreme Leader’s personal business empire.
Such concrete steps would also undermine efforts by the Iranians to take advantage of the rift between Washington and Brussels to lure European governments into economic deals.
It’s true, many of Europe’s businesses want a piece of Iran’s economy. But Europe’s elites are out of touch with reality if they think for a moment that European business giants will risk their stake in America’s $19 trillion economy for Iran’s $400 billion economy. In 2015, French banking giant BNP Paribas was slapped a whopping $8.9 billion fine for concealing billions of dollars in transactions with Iran in violation of US sanctions.
Although Iran’s current regime has attempted to appear more moderate, they are still driven by the same ideology of clerical fascism that crushed protesters in 1979 and again in 2009 during the Green Revolution. The silence, or even complicity, of European governments shames the reputation of Europe and benefits the mullahs, who treat the Iranian people as their own private property.
It is now up to America to say, “no more.”
Joshua S. Block is CEO & President of The Israel Project