Foreign Affairs

Iranian drone attack on Israel paves the way for a new European round of sanctions 

April 2024
By Editorial Staff

The 27 Foreign Affairs ministers will hold an informal discussion on Tuesday to discuss possible next steps to take to deter Iran from heavily responding to Israeli’s strike on the Iranian consulate on April 1. The attack caused the death of one top soldier, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, among other Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders. 

The EU top diplomats’ meeting has been convened by High representative Josep Borrell shortly after Teheran announced the launch of more than two hundred drones and missiles against Israel. Most of them were intercepted by Israeli, US, and other allied forces, with only minor damage reported on an Israeli military base.

“Diplomatic engagement with actors in the region and other partners involved continues to make sure that there is no further escalation because this brings to the brink of a new unforeseen situation in the Middle East”, a European Commission spokesperson claimed during the daily briefing with EU correspondents. The adoption of new restrictive measures – travel ban to enter the EU territory, asset freeze of goods held on the EU land and ban on making funds available to listed individuals and entities – is a process “in the hands of Member States and has to be agreed unanimously”, the spokesperson recalled. No proposal was tabled by the High representative in order not to preempt this process, journalists were told. As of now, the EU used several different sanction regimes against Iran and the Iranian people to counter the proliferation of mass destruction, the human rights violations in connection to the aftermath of the murder of Mahsa Amini – for which the Iranian regime has always been considered accountable – and the supply of drones and related technology to Russia in its war in Ukraine. 

The European Commission rejected also criticism of using double standards in deploring last Saturday’s air strike, which the government of Teheran claims to be based on the legitimate right to self-defense enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The EU, as pointed out by a large section of public opinion, promptly endorsed on the contrary Israeli reaction to the Hamas attack of October 7th which caused the death of 1,200 Israeli citizens legitimating the invasion of the Gaza strip and the consequent killing of more than 33 thousand people living in the Palestinian exclave. “We condemn things as they happen in the violation of international law”, the spokesperson stressed. 

Relations between Iran and the EU have reached the lowest point. In December 2022, EU Member States reaffirmed their commitment to support the full and effective implementation of a restored Jcpoa (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the agreement sealed in 2015 with the 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Iran to avoid the acceleration of Teheran’s nuclear program and hinder what the Western countries consider a further dangerous presence of nuclear weapons in the region. The US unilateral withdrawal weakened the EU leadership’s role in keeping the agreement alive. 

The sanctions adopted by the EU countries hit a point of no return when the EU imposed sanctions on individuals and entities “responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran, given their role in the death of Mahsa Amini and the violent response to the recent demonstrations in Iran”. 

The government of Germany and France among others in the EU responded likewise when last Sunday Iran summoned their ambassadors for the “irresponsible stances against the recent cowardly attack on Iran’s Embassy in Damascus”. European capitals are determined to use whatever leverage they still have over Tehran to plead for a cooling of tensions and call all parts – Israel included – to restrain and avoid escalation. The failure of diplomacy in the last years does not suggest that deterrence could work better than it has done until now.