The EU's Next High Representative for Appeasing Iran

Josep Borrell Fontelles's views on Iran and Israel are dangerous and deeply misguided

Josep Borrell Fontelles / Twitter
July 9, 2019

As the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini has gone to remarkable lengths to appease the regime in Iran. Last January, for example, just days after anti-government protests erupted across the Islamic Republic, Mogherini equated Iranian demonstrators with the cruel regime that so brutally oppresses them. "In the spirit of frankness and respect that is at the basis of our relationship," she said, "we expect all concerned to refrain from violence and the right of expression to be guaranteed." Mogherini, who is supposed to champion democracy and human rights, lumped together the abused and the abusive, condemning the former as much as the latter. Such equivocation is shameful, but not surprising. After all, the EU's chief diplomat visits Tehran frequently to meet with Iranian leaders, of course donning a hijab, and has tried to circumvent American sanctions against the regime to boost European trade with the mullahs. Economic interdependence and grand diplomacy between sophisticated bureaucrats are, according to Mogherini's worldview, not only the ways to prevent conflict, but also the ways to moderate the hard men of Iran so they choose Western fads over Islamist imperialism. Incredibly, it looks like Mogherini's immoral and myopic thinking will only become more entrenched among the EU's leadership once she steps down from her post later this year.

Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell Fontelles, the man who the European Council nominated last week to succeed Mogherini in November, has expressed strong support for Iran. In February, to mark the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution, which brought a murderous theocracy into power, Borrell tweeted a thread celebrating the regime. He even wrote that Iran "has had an essential role in the #Syria war, helping [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad while the Americans are pulling out." Borrell failed to mention that, since 2011, Iran has abetted Assad's regime in murdering about 500,000 Syrians and displacing millions more. Perhaps the Spanish diplomat thought that condemning a regime that commits such atrocities and executes homosexuals simply for being homosexuals was too provocative, too undiplomatic.

Borrell has a similarly terrible record concerning Israel. In a scathing op-ed in May 2018, shortly after a day of intense Palestinian riots along the Gazan border with Israel, Borrell wrote that President Trump was "encouraging the warlike arrogance" of Israel's prime minister, and that "this black Monday reflects the dehumanization of the Palestinians by a large part of the Israeli political class and society."

The connection between Borrell's views on Iran and his views on Israel is evident in an answer he gave during an interview with Politico in February. As Politico's Matthew Karnitschnig reported at the time:

What about the Iran nuclear deal? Is it as dead as the Americans say? "The agreement is dead, but not for us," Borrell said. "The Americans decided to kill it, unilaterally as they do things without any kind of previous consultation, without taking care of what interests the Europeans have." Doesn't the U.S. have a point on Iran, given its vow to destroy Israel and what the Americans call Iran's "malign" behavior, which recently included an attempted terror attack in Europe? "We are not children following what they say," Borrell said. "We have our own prospects, interests, and strategy, and we will continue working with Iran. It would be very bad for us if it goes on to develop a nuclear weapon … Iran wants to wipe out Israel; nothing new about that. You have to live with it [emphasis mine]."

That last comment about Israel received widespread attention on social media in recent days, with experts rightly criticizing the remark. Obviously the comment, which dismissed the Iranian leadership's countless pledges to destroy Israel as no big deal, is morally abhorrent. But the remark reveals two other points that show just how misguided Borrell's views are, and how soon enough American hawks may even come to miss Mogherini.

First, Borrell clearly does not understand Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, where Jews yearned to return for 2,000 years of exile during which their physical survival was constantly threatened. Israel's basic purpose is to protect the Jewish people, both by serving as a place of refuge and by maintaining a standing military to defend the nation. Given this history and the genocidal threats that Israel faces today, Israelis and Jews around the world take Iran's pledges to eradicate the Jewish state quite seriously. Shrugging off such threats as pesky distractions is shameful and reveals an alarming level of ignorance.

Borrell's comment also reveals an alarming level of strategic myopia. The Spanish diplomat does not seem to appreciate that the regime's visceral hatred of Israel steers Iranian foreign policy, perhaps more than any other principle. Just look at Iran's intervention in the Syrian conflict, of which one senior Iranian official said, "If we lose Syria, we won't be able to hold Tehran." That same official also described Syria as Iran's "35th province." But why is Syria so important to the Islamic Republic? Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has an answer. "The chain of resistance against Israel by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, the new Iraqi government, and Hamas passes through the Syrian highway," he said in 2012. "Syria is the golden ring of the chain of resistance against Israel." As Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote last year: "Distilled to its essence, Tehran's steadfast support for Assad is not driven by the geopolitical or financial interests of the Iranian nation, nor the religious convictions of the Islamic Republic, but by a visceral and seemingly inextinguishable hatred for the state of Israel … Opposition to the Jewish state has been the most enduring pillar of Iranian revolutionary ideology."

Also consider the weapons and hundreds of millions of dollars that Iran gives to Lebanese Hezbollah, its chief proxy force, and to Palestinian terrorist groups, particularly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, each year. All of those Iranian resources are geared toward one purpose: to destroy Israel.

One cannot understand, let alone begin to counter, Iran's expansionism across the Middle East without appreciating how hatred of Israel factors into its imperialism. In other words, dismissing the regime's hatred of Israel is to dismiss Iran's belligerent foreign policy, not to mention the countless lives that Tehran has destroyed in the Middle East and beyond. Or, at the very least, it shows a complete lack of understanding of Iranian behavior. In either case, for anyone who cares about protecting Western interests and values, Borrell is a horrendous choice to guide European foreign policy.

Assuming the European Parliament approves Borrell's nomination, which seems a foregone conclusion, the EU will continue its cowardly international posture, further entrenching its increasing impotency on the world stage. Bureaucrats in Brussels and other European capitals often complain about American unilateralism, even chauvinism, especially toward Iran. Perhaps if they showed some resolve and stopped their spineless appeasement, they would have more power to influence events.