Israel welcomes European sanctions on Iran over plots to attack dissidents

Foreign Ministry says measures offers ‘some hope’ that members of the 28-country bloc are willing to take action against Tehran’s ‘global campaign of terrorism’

European Union leaders attend a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, December 14, 2018. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)
European Union leaders attend a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, December 14, 2018. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)

In a rare show of support for European Union policies in the Middle East, Israel on Wednesday welcomed the EU’s declaration that it would sanction Iran over suspicions it planned to kill opposition activists in Europe.

“This is an important first step by the EU, combating Iranian aggression,” the Foreign Ministry tweeted. “The newly imposed sanctions offer some hope that a growing number of countries are willing to take an active, clear stand against Iran’s global campaign of terrorism.”

The statement came a day after the EU put an Iranian intelligence service and two senior officials on its terror list over suspicions that they were involved in assassinations and plots to kill opposition activists in Denmark, France and the Netherlands.

A freeze on their funds and assets was to take effect on Wednesday.

The EU supports maintaining the Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015 between Tehran and world powers and abandoned last year by the Trump administration. Israel strongly opposes the agreement, which sought to curb Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of sanctions. The US has since reimposed sanctions, while the other parties to the agreement are striving to keep the pact intact.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the post of foreign minister, has in the past fiercely condemned the European Union for its policies on Israel, including in hot mic comments in 2017 that saw him lash EU leaders for their “crazy” treatment of the Jewish state.

In June 2018, Netanyahu reportedly refused a request by European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to meet her in Jerusalem, prompting the envoy to cancel a planned trip to the country.

Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen speaks with the media at the conclusion of an EU-ASEM summit in Brussels, October 19, 2018. (Alastair Grant/AP)

Ministers from the 28-nation European bloc’s governments “agreed to enact sanctions” at a meeting in Brussels in what Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said Tuesday is a “strong signal from the EU that we will not accept such behavior.”

Samuelsen said Denmark had worked with France to put the Direction of Internal Security at Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and its chief Saeid Hashemi Moghadam on the list, adding that the aim is “to create a resolute and robust European foreign policy; that we respond clearly and significantly when our borders are crossed.”

The Dutch government said that, based on information collected by its General Intelligence and Security Service, “the Netherlands considers it probable that Iran had a hand in the preparation or commission of assassinations and attacks on EU territory,” including the killing of two Dutch nationals of Iranian origin in the cities of Almere in 2015 and in The Hague in 2017. Iran has denied involvement.

Paris alleges that Tehran’s intelligence internal security section is linked to an attempt to bomb a rally of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, or MEK, on June 30 outside the French capital. The Danes say Iran in October was planning to kill in Denmark a member of the group that Tehran has blamed for a September 22 attack that killed at least 25 people. The group, called Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, condemned the violence and said it was not involved.

Iranian opponents of the Iranian regime belonging to the Iranian exile group People’s Mujahedeen organization stage a protest in front of the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, November. 5, 2013. (Benjamin Girette/AP)

The blacklisting move could complicate EU efforts to keep alive the nuclear deal with Iran in the wake of the US pullout. Amid heated US rhetoric and sanctions, the bloc is struggling to establish a balance between encouraging Iran to stay on board while punishing it for alleged transgressions not linked to the pact.

Samuelsen said that some EU countries were “hesitant” Tuesday about the move due to the nuclear deal with Iran. He didn’t name them.

“We are behind the nuclear deal as long as they stick to their commitments,” Samuelsen said. “It is in the European interest that the deal is being respected.”

The Dutch government said that “as long as Iran fulfills its obligations under the deal, the European Union will do the same. Nevertheless, Iran will be held to account for matters that affect EU and international security interests.”

Samuelsen said he had conversations with a US colleague ahead of the decision and was told it was “a bold decision, bold initiative.”

“The fact that we’re clear on this was appreciated from the American side,” he told reporters.

In Denmark, Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen tweeted that the move was “very encouraging,” adding “EU stands united — such actions are unacceptable and must have consequences.”

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