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Opinion: Belgium’s pending treaty would send dangerous terrorists back to Iran

A Belgian citizen has been held in Iran but may have a chance to return home with the new Belgium-Iran prisoner swap. But the swap has many concerned about a terrorist release back to Iran as well

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New Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne is pictured during a swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.

New Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, center, raises his hand to take an oath during a swearing-in ceremony for the new government in front of Belgium’s King Philippe at the Royal Palace in Brussels on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. A Belgian citizen has been held in Iran but may have a chance to return home with the new Belgium-Iran prisoner swap. But the swap has many concerned about a terrorist release back to Iran as well.

Yves Herman, pool via Associated Press

The first difficulty of the treaty between Belgium and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the transfer of sentenced persons is believing that the Belgian Parliament is even considering this disastrous agreement.

Within paragraph three of a translation of the treaty are the words, “A person sentenced in the territory of a Party may be transferred to the territory of the other Party, in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty, in order to serve the remaining period of the sentence imposed on him. To that end, he may express his interest to the Sentencing State or to the Administering State in being transferred under this Treaty.”

In an attempt to justify the Belgian government’s embracement of Iran, Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne claims the treaty is an attempt to build trust between Iran and Belgium.

Van Quickenborne fails to understand that agreements with aggressor nations never work as intended. His “attempt to build trust” echoes of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s claim in 1938 of achieving “peace in our time” with Hitler’s Germany. Like all of Europe, Belgium suffered dearly from the Munich Agreement. Van Quickenborne is now defending what would one day be known as the Brussels Agreement.         

Almost all of the political and media debate around this proposed treaty concerns the short-term consequences. More specifically, this agreement will allow Iran to receive back its Ministry of Intelligence and Security operative Assadollah Assadi, and the Belgium-based sleeper cell he activated to bomb an Iranian Resistance rally outside Paris in 2018. Through close coordination between Belgian, French and German law enforcement authorities, the entire operation’s members were captured before executing its plan. Belgian courts enforced the rule of law and issued lengthy prison sentences.

Van Quickenborne has admitted that this treaty is directly tied to his attempt to free a Belgian citizen, who was apprehended after the Assadi verdict, from illegal arrest and conviction by Iranian officials. Instead of a one-for-one swap, Van Quickenborne is pushing an agreement to return all Iranian terrorists held in Belgium.

The long-term problem with this treaty was well explained to Eliane Tillieux, president of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives. On July 3 a joint letter was sent to her, signed by former NATO Commander and U.S. national security adviser James Jones, former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and former Homeland Security Director Thomas Ridge. Within this letter, they stated:

“This pending Treaty with Iran offers Belgium as a “sanctuary country” for terrorist sleeper cell operations, and a safe haven for Iran to construct its European central command center. If terrorist planning operations are disrupted, those apprehended will be sent back to Iran upon conviction In Belgian courts. If the terrorist cells are successful, then the perpetrators are also eligible for transfer to the country they served.

“Once established inside Belgium, these sleeper cell operatives will have much more ease in traveling throughout all countries of the European Union. The law enforcement community will not be able to keep up with all their activities. When Mr. Assadi was captured, in his possession was detailed information concerning over twenty sleeper cells under his control in several European countries. Mr. Assadi is just one of thousands of MOIS agents. In addition to the MOIS, Iran has the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Quds Force (translated as Jerusalem Force) to conduct terrorist operations around the globe.         

“As home to the European Union, Brussels is in reality the functional capital of Europe. As members of law enforcement and military communities, it is inconceivable to us that the Government of the Kingdom of Belgium is even considering offering to host Iran’s terrorist operations headquarters in Europe.”

If this treaty is approved, then Iran will know anytime something is desired from Belgium, all it will take is to apprehend, convict and sentence innocent Belgians.

Participant members within the Belgian Parliament ruling coalition are looking at approving this treaty because it is the desire of the dominant party leaders. The feeling may be that the coalition will be weakened if individual members vote their conscience instead of party line.

It’s time for Belgian parliamentarians to put the safety and security of their country and all of its citizens ahead of politics. The release of the imprisoned Belgian citizen needs to be addressed and worked. This treaty cannot be legitimately approved at the expense of removing accountability from Iranian government operatives as they continue to enhance terrorism capabilities throughout Belgium and all of Europe.

Retired Col. Wes Martin served as the senior antiterrorism officer for all coalition forces in Iraq.