Sheryl Saperia, Special to The CJN
Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program have dominated headlines worldwide. With the debate inundated with references to break-out times, heavy-water plants and centrifuges, it would be understandable if some observers lost track of the core issue of this crisis: the threat is not so much the weapon as the regime that owns it.
Under the leadership of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran manages a huge industry of torture; executes its poets, children, and dissidents; persecutes minorities; sponsors terrorism; and speaks openly about the need to annihilate another sovereign state. As such, Iran is a country that cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons.
Even if Iran were never to launch a single nuclear warhead, merely its capacity to do so would provide the regime with a protective shield, emboldening it to continue and intensify its pursuit of regional hegemony and global instability. Iran has undoubtedly paid close attention to its ally, North Korea, which has deftly pioneered the path to political ascension through nuclear intimidation.
The essential menace emanating from Iran is, therefore, a result, not of its nuclear technology, but of its ideological convictions. Iran was a global concern prior to its nuclear advances, and will continue to be so in the aftermath of any nuclear deal – regardless of the terms.
Senator David Tkachuk underscored this point to the Canadian Senate last week, when he spoke about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s intimate relationship with terrorism. He drew attention to Iran’s nine-digit budget line to support international terrorism, and the ideological context of the regime’s embrace of terrorist diplomacy.
Tkachuk is the same Conservative senator who played a central role in the passage of the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act (JVTA), a bill enabling victims of terror to file civil lawsuits against the sponsors and perpetrators of terrorism, and leading to the government’s designation of Iran and Syria as state sponsors of terror. Canadians would be fortunate indeed if Tkachuk’s statement last week is a prelude to greater action taken by the Canadian government with regard to Iranian terrorism.
Experts have noted that Iran regards terrorism as an essential element of its foreign policy, military strategy and religious revolution. Responsibility for executing this terrorism policy has largely been delegated to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its overseas branch, the Quds Force, which maintain operations in dozens of countries. The IRGC is currently assisting Bashar Assad in slaughtering thousands of Syrian civilians, and has been involved in terrorist attacks around the globe in which Canadian citizens have been murdered. Notably, the IRGC also provided assistance to the Taliban and Al Qaeda during the post-9/11 mission in Afghanistan in which so many Canadian soldiers were injured or killed.
Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which are listed terrorist entities in Canada, have received critical support from the IRGC. Hezbollah, in fact, has been referred to as nothing less than a wholly owned Iranian subsidiary, and a terrorist group currently more dangerous than Al Qaeda. This is an organization that seeks operatives with Canadian passports, extorts money from Lebanese expatriates in Canada, and has been caught conducting surveillance of Jewish and Israeli targets in Canada.
Hezbollah’s Canadian presence is just one manifestation of Iran’s interest in this country. The regime has attempted to extend its influence in Canada by surreptitiously funding conferences, mosques, university student organizations and cultural centres. Iranian-Canadians have often feared that speaking out against the regime will mean harm accruing to themselves or their families back in Iran.
Iranian diplomats were, in fact, expelled from Canada in 2012, partly due to their spying on Canadians of Iranian origin. But the spying continues. A sensational news story emerged this month about Arian Azarbar, an alleged Iranian spy whose movements and activities were being monitored by Canadian security, intelligence and immigration officials. While Azarbar denies any connection to Iran, security expert Tom Quiggin has pointed out that the name of Azarbar’s Canadian-based company figures prominently in a series of videos promoting an Iran-Venezuela business co-operation project in housing. More information will surely emerge in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, there is every indication that Iran’s commitment to terrorism will remain unchanged. Accordingly, Canada should consider legislative and policy options to contend with that threat.
For one, the IRGC as a whole should be designated as a terrorist entity. Currently only the IRGC’s Quds Force is listed as such. Yet in the past, Canada has wisely refused to recognize the legitimacy of any branch of a terrorist entity, and has banned groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in their entirety. The same measure should now be taken against the IRGC.
As noted by Emanuele Ottolenghi, a specialist on the IRGC, “The revenues derived from all [the IRGC’s] activities fund their military endeavours – including support for terrorist groups abroad and the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology at home.”
Moreover, sanctions under the Special Economic Measures Act could be imposed for Iran’s terrorist involvement, rather than solely for violations of its international nuclear obligations.
Finally, Canadians should press their government to maintain existing sanctions until there is verifiable evidence that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon. And legislators like David Tkachuk and Liberal member of Parliament Irwin Cotler deserve to be supported in their efforts to bring attention to an Iranian regime that has truly earned the distinction of being the pre-eminent state sponsor of global terrorism.
Sheryl Saperia is director of policy for Canada at the U.S.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank specializing in national security and foreign policy.