By: Adelle Nazarian, Media Fellow and Dr. Seyed Hossein Lotfizadeh
An impressive array of congressional letters have been pulling the Biden administration in opposite directions regarding the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“Iran deal" for short) negotiated under former President Barack Obama over a span of days. While the heated atmosphere is a clear indication of the perils of whatever path the Biden administration opts to pursue, one would hope that cooler heads prevail at end of the day given the stakes.
This won’t be possible, however, without a closer look at the fine print of the deal which includes important but often overlooked provisions of the accord that are expected to make the world a far less safe place based on the bad actors it helps.
Case in point: in February 2021, the death (from SARS-CoV-2) of an obscure yet shady and sinister character became a reminder of the dangers that a point-by-point implementation of the accords would entail. It is no exaggeration to point out that such unforeseen risks could overshadow concerns about nuclear proliferation.
We are talking about a convicted terrorist that, despite committing double murder on allied European soil, served but a few years, and thanks to the nuclear deal, could have had the chance to carry out his crimes again. The issue is, a re-entry into this deal will provide the opportunity for others like him to assassinate targets of the Iranian regime.
A 2015 piece in the Wall Street Journal bemoaned the fact that, under the deal, there would be “nefarious characters whose names would be removed under the deal from Western sanctions lists.”
The person referred to here was a Lebanese national named Anis Naccache (alternatively al-Naqqash). A moment of reflection over the life “achievements" of Naccache suffices to show how dangerous this would be.
A eulogy of Naccache published in Iran’s state-run outlet Tehran Times is illuminating: Allegedly, before Iran's 1979 Islamization, Naccache “was a fighter in the front ranks of the Palestinian resistance in Lebanon and one of the most prominent security and military figures in it,” and “he participated in military operations outside Lebanon for the sake of the Palestinian cause.”
Reality is not so romantic.
In December 1975, a team of six assailants raided the meeting of OPEC oil ministers in Vienna, Austria. A massive hostage crisis followed, which resulted in several deaths and over 60 captives. The “glorious” operation was led by one of most notorious terrorists of the day, the Venezuelan Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, aka “Carlos the Jackal” (who, not incidentally, bore the name of the leader of Russia's 1917 Bolshevik revolution). Naccache was one of the participants.
Raised as a Sunni Muslim, Naccache converted to Shia Islam later in life, and became a fan of Iran’s version of Shia Islamism. Given his impressive resume as a terrorist, his attraction to the newly founded Islamic Republic in Iran would come as no surprise. Once on board, however, he went out of his way to please his new masters.
In 1980, Naccache was captured after he tried to assassinate Shapur Bakhtiar; Iran's secular leader toppled by Islamists. During the attempt, he killed two French citizens and permanently disabled a third, a police officer.
It’s worthy to note that a large number of dissidents against the regime of Iran, with a broad range of ideologies and political affiliations, were assassinated in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, and this played no small part in browbeating many millions of Iranian expats into silence. The regime, however, never took responsibility for the killings, always blaming them on “infighting” among dissident groups.
One might wonder why such “infighting” among Iranians would be of interest to a Lebanese with a long history of involvement in terrorism.
In Naccache’s case, the motives were quite clear, as was the fact that the regime came out fully in his defense. While demands for his release would likely not get very far on their own, the kidnapping of several French citizens in the Middle East by pro-Iran groups and the desire to secure their freedom would be a different matter.
Hostage taking has become a standard practice for the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Naccache was pardoned by France's socialist leader François Mitterrand in 1990 and immediately took a flight to Iran.
Neither French nor Iranian officials ever admitted this was a “prisoner exchange”; quite similar to America’s refusal to admit that the “pallets of cash” it sent to Iran in 2016 as Americans were set free in what was clearly seen as a quid pro quo exchange.
Yet the temporal coincidence between the release of Naccache and the French hostages is an undeniable reality. And even in France, it is not so common for convicted murderers to be release after in a mere 10 years.
Shortly thereafter, Naccache’s would be victim, Shapur Bakhtiar, was “successfully” assassinated. The assassins were surely aware that even if caught, their punishment would barely be more than a mere slap on the wrist, and in fact, they were freed after less than 20 years behind bars in another prisoner swap.
Upon his release, Naccache became a “business man," but never gave up his involvement with terrorism. While the Sunni al-Qaeda and Shia Islamic Republic of Iran may seem like strange bedfellows, they have been alleged to join forces and cooperate covertly -- often by proxy -- on certain projects against their common enemy: America and the West.
As the 2015 Wall Street Journal piece pointed out, “[I]n 2008 the European Union determined that Mr. Naccache was linked to Iran’s nuclear-proliferation activities…Brussels added him to a sanctions list due to his alleged role in Iran’s nuclear program, not his terrorist past."
And yet, he would “be removed from the EU sanctions list under the nuclear deal,” as would “numerous other Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leaders responsible for the deaths of many Iranian dissidents, U.S. servicemen in Iraq and civilians in Syria and elsewhere."
Upon Naccache’s death – by none other than the coronavirus --, Syria's genocidal dictator Bashar al-Assad sent the following message: “We offer…all…freedom-fighters the sincerest condolence.” Some “freedom-fighting the attempt on Bakhtiar’s life was.
Eulogies for Naccache also identified him as a “comrade” of Imad Mughniyeh, another shadowy figure linked to the attack on the US embassy in Beirut in 1983 that left 67 dead, the truck bombings against French paratroopers and US Marine barracks resulting in deaths of 60 French and 240 American service personnel, and numerous other acts of murder, torture, hijacking and kidnapping.
It would be tempting to have a “let bygones be bygones” attitude and not allow incidents from the 1980s and 1990s get in the way of 2021’s priorities, particularly as it pertains to an issue as important as the nuclear deal.
Unfortunately, while we may be willing to assign extraterritorial acts of terrorism by the regime of Iran to the history books, the IRI itself has no such intention.
As recent as February 2021, a court in Belgium found a Vienna based agent for the Iranian regime guilty of trying to bomb a meeting of an Iranian opposition group in France in 2018. That the mentioned agent was using his diplomatic status as cover only further demonstrates that such brazen acts of murder and intimidation are not just a matter of the past, but very much in the present.
Rejoining the deal as it was first negotiated would make the world a less safe place. Such security concerns are among the reasons European nations, having in the past criticized the US for withdrawing unilaterally from the deal, are now cognizant that negotiations to revive the deal need to extend to hitherto untouched subjects and simple readhesion would be unwise.
After all, such acts by the IRI pose a greater threat to French, British and German citizens than they do to their American counterparts.
Dr. Seyed Hossein Lotfizadeh, (Hos Loftus, MD), is an Iranian-born American physician trained in the field of neurology at Boston University, followed by several extra subspecialty years of training at various institutions in different states.
Adelle Nazarian is a senior media fellow at the Gold Institute for International Strategy and a communications director for several non-government organizations.