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Europe’s Three Concerns About Iran

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, May 10

When I spoke to a number of researchers and policymakers in Europe over the past few weeks, I got the impression that when looking at things from the European vantage point, Iran looks like a recurring nightmare that everybody wishes would disappear. Two years ago, many in Europe believed that this nightmare was over and gone for good. Today, however, the nightmare has resurfaced, accompanied by war drums in the background. The Europeans have never excelled in devising a unified and coherent strategy on Iran. During Obama’s eight years of presidency, the EU delayed every attempt to conduct a serious analysis of the Iranian issue. This made most European countries mere bystanders in the negotiations with Tehran. But the times have changed and today, under the presidency of Donald Trump, Europe is being forced to step up to the plate. The truth is that most European leaders agree with Trump’s approach of applying maximum pressure on Iran. However, European leaders fear three main things. First, is that cracking down on the Iranian regime would lead to its collapse and the rise of an even more extremist government. Second, there is a genuine fear that as the situation in Iran deteriorates, millions of Iranian refugees will make their way toward Europe. The third, and perhaps most serious, concern is that a fully armed confrontation with Iran would lead to unprecedented destruction and a potential outbreak of a third world war. While none of these concerns should be underestimated, these are nothing more than European excuses not to act. Fearing the rise of an even more extremist regime is no excuse to embrace a rogue regime led by tyrants. Similarly, Iranian refugees have already been fleeing their country for several decades, especially since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Therefore, the toppling of the mullah regime might actually enable displaced Iranians to return to their homes. Finally, it is rather clear that any confrontation with Iran would likely involve US, and not European, forces as the primary players on the battlefield. While the possibility of war must not be ignored, it is unlikely that Europe would bear the brunt of the burden if war were to break out. Therefore, the Europeans are quickly realizing that they have no choice but to take a firm stance against Tehran. The mullahs have escalated their tone against the West, and there is very little wiggle room left. Tehran is playing with fire and it may very well lead to a backlash one day. – Amir Taheri (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)