By Irit Lilian, Ambassador of the State of Israel to Bulgaria
Later this month, we will commemorate the victims of the terrorist attack in Sarafovo. Seven years have passed; the trial of the perpetrators goes on. For many the life goes on, for others – it stopped on that horrific day in July 2012. Throughout this period, one fact was not emphasised enough: the attack was committed by Hezbollah terrorists. Hezbollah, yet just another proxy of Iran in the Middle East.
In the perspective of time passed since the Sarafovo attack we understand – it was just one incident in Iran’s terror activity that since then spread to numerous European countries. It is not only six innocent civilians from Israel and Bulgaria who paid the price of a radical ideology – hundreds did, they were a link in a chain of barbaric acts. It is not in vain that Bulgaria was one of the driving forces behind the EU decision to designate the military branch of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
On the first day of July, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a local news agency that Iran had “crossed the 300-kilogram limit”. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has confirmed to the Board of Governors that the Agency verified that Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile exceeded the agreed limit. There two facts seem as a coincident. However, they are strongly linked to each other.
The international community had hoped that the JCPOA would create an opportunity for the Iranian regime to use the resources from the relief of sanctions for the welfare of the Iranian people, and to become a reliable member of the international community. Instead, the regime has spent billions financing bloody wars and proxy militias across the Middle East. In Syria, the Quds Force has built military infrastructure to support Assad’s killing of innocent Syrian civilians.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah has established factories for precision missiles conversion, meters away from Beirut’s international airport. In Yemen, the Houthis are attacking Saudi oil tankers, facilities, and airports. In Gaza, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad continue firing thousands of rockets on Israeli civilians. Western security authorities have failed several lethal terror attacks by Iranian agents in the United States and Europe in recent years, including in Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom.
This global terror activity is promoted and sponsored by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a US-designated foreign terror organisation, which exports its violent Islamist ideology throughout the region and the globe. Unfortunately, Bulgaria was a victim to this vicious ideology. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran Deal, was not a satisfactory response to the Iranian nuclear military programme. The 2015 agreement intended to stop Iran from developing nuclear military capabilities, yet it did not put an end to Iran’s aggressive ambitions.
The JCPOA created a mechanism that would pave Iran’s way to a nuclear weapon. The agreement’s “sunset clause” ensures that after a mere 10 to 15 years, Iran could begin expanding back its uranium-enrichment programme. In a matter of just months, Iran could introduce advanced centrifuges to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon. The agreement thus did not truly dispense with the regime’s decades-long ambition and future capability to produce nuclear weapons.
Israel together with some like-minded countries believe that the JCPOA undermines the international community’s ability to pressure Iran out of its hostile behaviors in the region. This includes its continued development of long-range ballistic and cruise missiles, which have the capability to deliver nuclear warheads as far as the heart of Europe. Bulgaria is indeed within the range of these missiles.
Maintaining the JCPOA also surrenders leverages that are necessary to bring Iran back to the negotiating table and halt its global hostilities. The cache of documents (Iran’s ‘Nuclear Archive’) uncovered by Israel in April 2018 revealed that Iran has been maintaining a secret nuclear weapons programme capabilities for many years, and had saved this programme in violation of the JCPOA.
The Iranian regime also blatantly blackmails the international community by threatening the safe passage of oil tankers through the region. Iran employs this blackmail technique to coerce the international community into keeping the JCPOA in place and to avoid the ramifications of its provocative policies.
Whether one agrees with the United States’ decision to pull out of the deal or not, it is undeniably clear that, the JCPOA gives Iran a largely undeterred pathway to acquiring nuclear weapons in the future, allowing it to flex its military muscle and expand its destabilising policies across the Middle East under the umbrella of the agreement. The Iranian regime is now threatening to violate the JCPOA. For decades, undeterred and unimpeded, Iran has been racing towards its nuclear goal.
Iran’s impressive cultural and historical heritage, which has enriched global developments for centuries, has been overshadowed by the Ayatollah’s military ambitions. Their regime’s leaders are robbing the Iranian people of the opportunity to play an important role on the international stage. Instead of investing in the Iranian people’s wellbeing and joining the international community, the Iranian leadership prioritises the regime’s development of nuclear, ballistic missiles, and sponsorship of global terror.
Given the shortcomings of the JCPOA, it is essential that the international community comes together to find a solution that will truly ensure that Iran will never become a nuclear power, and address Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region, halt its support of international terrorism, and end its development of ballistic missiles.
Can a regime that has consistently deceived its partners, and that continues to export terrorism across the world, truly be trusted? The international community must demand a complete change in policy from the regime and build a verifiable method to ensure that Iran will no longer pose a global threat. It is time to make it clear that the world will not tolerate a belligerent, nuclear-armed Iran.
We owe it to victims of Iranian radical ideology, in Bulgaria and elsewhere.