Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987

Why Tehran Crosses Only 'Pink Lines'

Talk to any senior European Union official and you are sure to hear the Islamic Republic in Iran designated as “a threat to regional stability.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel endorses Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s assessment of Iranian behavior as “unacceptable.”

French President Emmanuel Macron insists that Iran should carry out UN resolutions by closing its ballistic missile project. And, yet, EU’s policy on Iran, assuming such a thing exists, is plagued by contradictions.

The EU’s spokesperson for foreign policy, Ms. Federica Mogherini has devoted most of her immense energies operating as a lobbyist for the Islamic Republic. She has visited more than 30 countries to present the Islamic Republic as the poor little lamb facing the American big bad wolf. To show what a special place the mullahs have in her heart, when in Tehran, she wears the full Khomeinist hijab, but when she visits other Islamic capitals she unleashes her peroxide blonde hair in full evidence.

In private, EU officials dismiss that as childish symbolism. The problem is that symbolism does matter as much in politics as in poetics.

For example, when, just weeks after leaving office, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel heads a delegation of European businessmen to Tehran and praises the Islamic Republic as a rock of stability in the Mideast, some in the Khomeinist leadership will see that as an endorsement of Tehran’s reckless adventurism.

For almost two years the EU has fostered the illusion in the Islamic Republic that it can continue doing as it pleases without risking any bad consequence. When the Trump administration unveiled a series of measures to force Tehran to modify aspects of its behavior, the EU rejected the American position but followed all the sanctions that Washington imposed on Iran.

At the same time, however, the EU appointed a team to find ways of circumventing those same sanctions.

This duality, not to say duplicity, led to the idea of creating an “alternative system of trade financial transactions” to help the Islamic Republic sell its oil to Europe and buy European goods and services. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas promises Tehran it would be” accommodated” in the global trading system.

The idea that the Islamic Republic merits special favorable treatment was invented by former US President Barack Obama. He created a parallel UN Security Council in the shape of the so-called 5+1 group of powers. The idea was to allow Tehran to ignore six UNSC resolutions that it did not like. Obama also ignored the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by exempting Iran from its terms and conjuring the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (CJPOA) which clearly states it is tailor-made only for Iran.

The EU’s special favorable treatment of the Islamic Republic includes keeping mum about over 20 EU citizens currently held as hostages in Tehran. It is also indicated by the mere rap-on-the wrist response of the Europeans to the Islamic Republic’s latest terrorist operations in four European countries.

Ironically, a more credible exposure of the destructive role that the Islamic Republic plays in Europe has come from Tehran’s former Ambassador in Berlin Ali Majedi. Majedi is no defector or dissident. He is back in Tehran at the end of his Berlin mission, starting his retirement.

However, he told reporters in Tehran that he had seen that the Europeans had “extensive evidence” about Iran’s “destructive activities” which could not be attributed to “undisciplined elements” in Tehran. Europeans, including British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, delude themselves in believing that by “working with Iran” they could prevent the Islamic Republic from “crossing the red lines.”

The problem is that the Islamic Republic does not cross those real or imaginary “red lines”. Like the now-defunct Soviet Union in its time, the Islamic Republic’s strategy is to cross only “pink lines”, which constitute 99 percent of the norms of international behavior, whenever possible.

The Islamic Republic has no troops in Yemen but manages to keep that tragedy going by helping Houthi rebels hang on to the patch of territory they hold.

The last of Iranian military advisers have left Iraq. But they have left behind thousands of Iraqi military who lived in Iran for decades and hold dual nationality to lead pro-Tehran militias. Tehran sets the tune in Beirut not through Iranian troops but by hiring local manpower from all communities, notably the Hezbollah.

Of the estimated 80,000 troops that Tehran has in Syria, less than 10 percent are Iranians, others being mercenaries from a dozen countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria itself. The Islamic Republic has crossed no red-line in Afghanistan but it hires thousands of armed men from all communities, most recently from among the Taliban as well.

In the EU countries, Tehran is careful not to cross “red lines”. But, it crosses ”pink lines” when it can through mosques, hussainiyahs, religious endowments and fake charities. In Britain alone, the Islamic Republic controls at least a dozen tax-exempt “charities”, often used for financing violent groups across the globe or simply for money laundering.

Part of the EU’s soft spot for the Islamic Republic may be inspired by endemic anti-Americanism which is present in most European political circles, left and right. We saw one example of this latent anti-Americanism last week over the crisis in Venezuela. When members of the Organization of American States (OAS) almost unanimously rejected Nicolas Maduro’s claim to the presidency and endorsed Juan Guaido as Interim President of Venezuela, EU officials and media tried to portray this as another example of the US throwing its weight around.

Thus, they began by saying they won’t follow that policy. Once they realized that the anti-Maduro front covered virtually the whole of the Americas and was not another instance of “bullying by Trump” they used duplicity to cover their mistake. They gave Maduro eight days to organize new presidential elections or risk seeing the EU back Guaido’s claim as the OAS, including the US, had done.

It was obvious that Maduro won’t accept what would amount to admitting the legitimacy of his presidency. It was obvious that no election could be organized in eight days. It was also obvious that even if an election were held by an illegitimate regime it would have no legitimacy. Anti-American demagoguery had produced a laughable policy.

On Venezuela as on the Islamic Republic in Iran, the European Union must remove its anti-US, nowadays presented as only anti-Trump, glasses to see reality.