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Despite Absence, Iran Remains Top Of Agenda At Munich Security Conference

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In spite of Iran’s absence from one of the world’s leading security conferences, the regime remained among the top topics in the fight against terror.

Approximately 50 heads of state and government, alongside around 100 ministers participated in this year’s Munich Security Conference, the second consecutive year that Tehran and Moscow did not receive invitations.

The event took place against the backdrop of Iran’s proxy war with militias wreaking havoc across the Middle East in alliance with the Islamist group Hamas, which invaded Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 mostly civilians and capturing at least 250 hostages into Gaza.

Iran was excluded from the conference last year following violent protests in 2022 during which hundreds were killed, including numerous children, and thousands more detained. The nationwide demonstrations erupted following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s hijab police, representing one of the most significant challenges to the clerical regime since its establishment 45 years ago. 

Russia’s exclusion from this year’s conference has been linked to its continued invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022. However, this year the event was overshadowed by the mysterious death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Russia’s Penal Colony No. 3 just above the Arctic Circle on Friday. 

As has become the norm in events about international security, participants of the Munich conference engaged in intense discussions regarding Iran’s human rights violations, destabilizing activities and its role in global conflicts. Additionally, concerns were raised about Iran’s supply of drones and missiles for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a partnership that has exacerbated tensions in the region and raised alarm among international security experts. 

Referring to the current Middle East conflict that has been spiraling across the region since the October 7 attack by Iran-backed Hamas, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized the need to contain Iran to have “an integrated region where people are actually working together for the common good.” 

He described Iran as “the number one threat” to the security of Israel as well as the security of many other countries, saying that this is only possible if “Iran is isolated along with all of its proxies.” 

“That future, that path is there, it’s clear, it’s hard, it’s complicated, but it’s real. The alternative is an endless repetition of the cycle that we’ve seen year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation,” he stated. 

Prominent Iranian activist Masih Alinejad was one of many calling for the designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, a step already taken by the United States. How can we reach peace and security in the world without designating the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization?”, she said, the military organization involved in almost all the regime’s activities in Iran and abroad.

Alinejad highlighted the human rights abuses perpetrated by the IRGC domestically, citing the case of Kosar Eftekhari, a protester who lost her eyesight after being shot by security forces during a crackdown in 2022, as emblematic of the regime’s brutality. “I am here today with a woman who was in the front line of last year’s uprising … she lost her eyes because of the Revolutionary Guards,” she told the audience.  

“The Islamic Republic is helping Putin, is helping Hamas, all the proxies in Yemen… unfortunately, dictators are more united than democratic countries.” She urged a common strategy to isolate Islamic Republic and “address (Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei and his gang of killers the way that you address (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” she said. 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock explained the legal constraints hindering the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization in the European Union. While acknowledging Iran’s destabilizing activities, Baerbock emphasized the importance of adhering to the rule of law and the need for sufficient evidence to justify such a designation under European legal frameworks. 

Her remarks have sparked anger from activists who reiterated that there is sufficient evidence and no legal obstacle for such an action. The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure calling for the European Union to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization in January 2023.

Unlike the United States which in 2019 under former President Donald Trump put the IRGC on its Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list, European countries have avoided the designation in the past few years and prioritized diplomacy with the Islamic Republic in the hope of concluding a nuclear deal. However, it has only emboldened the regime which has in the last year banned the UN’s nuclear inspectors, freed up frozen funds in a hostage exchange with the US, and accelerated its nuclear program.

Additionally, in the last two years alone, dozens of IRGC plots have been foiled by countries including the UK, US, Israel, Cyprus and Argentina, with calls from the world’s leading security and intelligence leaders to take action. In the UK, the head of MI5 called Iran one of the country’s biggest threats last year after revealing the scale of plots foiled on British soil, calling it “the state actor which most frequently crosses into terrorism”.