Articles

Off Reach in North America: How to Stop the Growing Threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The Government of Canada made the right decision to close down the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ottawa. Some Iranians living in Canada have criticized the Government’s move for the inconvenience it has caused them in receiving consular services, such as renewal of their Iranian passports. However, we must be cognizant of the fact that Iran’s covert operations abroad pose a real threat, and the Government of Canada has a responsibility to protect its citizens, which supersedes such inconveniences.

We must also not forget that the Islamic Republic is a dictatorial regime and as such, its embassy did not represent the will of the Iranian people but rather the radical and hidden agenda of its leaders. Keeping this in mind the Government of Canada should next look carefully and extensively into the background of those who wish to come to Canada from Iran as well as at questionable individuals who are already here and their affiliation with the Iranian regime.

The Government’s decision to end diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic followed the revelations of questionable activities and statements by Iranian officials in Canada. In 2012, my colleague and I translated and made public, troubling statements by Hamid Mohammadi, the Cultural Affairs Counsellor at Iran’s former embassy in Ottawa, in which he urged Iranian-Canadians to “occupy high-level key positions” and “resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture.” [1]

Maclean’s [2] reported that “through its embassy, and the ‘cultural centre’ within it, Iran aggressively reached out to the Iranian diaspora”. In 2010, the magazine exposed the “Centre for Iranian Studies” in Toronto as the regime’s front, identifying one of its directors as the brother of Ali Larijani, Iran’s Speaker of Parliament, and Sadeq Larijani, the head of its judiciary. Another is the “Iranian Cultural Centre” in Ottawa, which operated under the Embassy’s close supervision, while delivering programs in the guise of cultural activities.

Yet another example is the “Iranian Cultural Association of Carleton University”, at the time headed by the son of the above-mentioned cultural affairs counsellor. The student association organized propaganda in support of the Iranian regime, including an event commemorating the life and “teachings” of the regime’s founding dictator, who was responsible for ordering the execution of thousands of political opponents, suppressing human rights, and the treatment of women as second-class citizens. Even more worrisome is the revelation that such “teachings” had found their way into Grade 3 Iranian textbooks used in an Ottawa school, teachings that glorified child soldiers and suicide-martyrdom.

Terrorist regimes use infiltration as a means to achieve their goals, and the Iranian regime is no exception. In a 500-page indictment issued in May 2013, Dr. Alberto Nisman, an Argentine prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of the largest Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, provided evidence of the extent of Iran’s infiltration, intelligence, and terrorist network across Latin America. According to Nisman, Iran has sought “to infiltrate the countries of Latin America and install secret intelligence stations with the goal of committing, fomenting, and fostering acts of international terrorism in concert with its goals of exporting the revolution.” [3] Mohesen Rabbani, a former Iranian cultural attaché in Argentina, is believed to be the mastermind behind the bombing and the “coordinator of the Iranian infiltration of South America.” [4] Among those included in the indictment are two of Iran’s 2013 presidential candidates, as well as its former president Rafsanjani, who now presents himself as one of Iran’s reformists.

The indictment comes at the same time as the sentencing of Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American, who pled guilty for his role in the assassination plot against Adel al-Jubeir, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States. According to Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mr. Arbabsiar was “the key conduit for, and facilitator of, a nefarious international plot concocted by members of the Iranian military to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and as many innocent bystanders as necessary to get the job done.” [5] According to the indictment filed in federal court, Arbabsiar plotted the attack with his Iran-based co-conspirators, including members of Iran’s Qods Force. The Qods Force is a special unit within Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which seeks to export the Islamic Revolution to other countries and conducts covert operations abroad including terrorist attacks, assassinations, and kidnappings. In October 2007, the US Treasury Department designated the Qods Force as a terrorist supporter for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. In December 2012, Canada also added Qods to its list of entities under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. Each week during Friday prayers in Tehran, the regime openly and regularly utters death threats against the United States, Canada and their Western allies. Given Iran’s history, it would be wise not to take these threats lightly.

The Government of Canada has an important responsibility to protect our democracy and ensure the safety of Canadians. Closing down the Embassy of the Islamic Republic has certainly hampered Iran’s covert operations in Canada. However, with the expulsion of Iranian diplomats, we cannot simply assume that all elements of the Iranian regime have been removed. Canada must identify any individuals left behind by the regime whose activities pose a risk to Canada and take appropriate action. Moreover, the Government should also question the real motives of the regime’s apologists who defend the Islamic Republic against criticism while seeking to reverse Canada’s policies on Iran.

Finally, the Government of Canada cannot allow the the Iranian regime to potentially use Canadian territory as a base for organizing covert operations against the United States. It is important to ensure that Canada and the United States have a common approach to addressing infiltration and terrorist activities sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The “Beyond the Border” [6] initiative, which was announced in 2011 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama, provides the right framework for such discussion. An Action Plan under the initiative proposes improvements to cooperative law enforcement capacity and intelligence sharing as well as cooperation best practices to prevent and counter homegrown violent extremism.

The above are important steps but Canada must do a great deal more and take proactive measures to identify the Islamic Republic of Iran’s covert activities, including its efforts to gain support in Canada.