On Tuesday Greece announced the arrests of two men who are alleged to be of Pakistani origin and who were apparently planning to target a Jewish restaurant. The men have been charged with terrorism offenses, according to the Associated Press. According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office Israel rendered intelligence assistance.
According to the Israeli statement, the plot in Greece is part of Iran’s attempt to target Israeli and Jewish targets. This is also part of an “extensive” Iranian infrastructure that operates in many countries. According to the AP, the suspects entered Greece illegally from Turkey. Sites in Athens, southern Greece and the island of Zakynthos were searched.
Greek authorities have not identified the foreign intelligence agency that provided assistance in the investigation but said they were investigating the possibility that the suspects were also planning other attacks in Greece. “Their aim was not only to cause the loss of life of innocent citizens but also to undermine the sense of security in the country, while hurting public institutions and threatening (Greece’s) international relations,” a police statement said.
The two suspects both entered Greece illegally from neighboring Turkey and had been in the country for at least four months, according to two Greek officials who spoke to the Associated Press. As part of their investigation, police searched multiple sites in Athens as well as in southern Greece and on the western island of Zakynthos. Zakynthos is an island west of the Peloponese and south of the entrance to the Adriatic, and is known for a picturesque ship wreck among other things.
The Greek plot
Much is unknown about the Greek plot. Iranian regime media has not reported on the arrests of allegations. Pro-Iran media in the region appear to also be silent on the allegations. This is not atypical. However, sometimes Iran and its proxies have used their media to send messages about cases such as this. For instance, after a man infiltrated Israel in March and planted an IED at a junction near Megiddo, there was initial silence by Iran and Hezbollah. Later, however, Hezbollah appeared to warn Israel against any kind of response and other media hinted that this was a new Hezbollah tactic.
Therefore Iran’s response to this plot will be important to follow. On the other hand, this is not the first plot of this kind linked to Iran. Iran and its proxies appear to have hatched plots over the years to target Jews in Turkey, Cyprus and also the 2012 attack in Bulgaria. In the past, Iran has also tried to target Israeli targets in India, Thailand, Georgia, Azerbaijan and elsewhere.
Iran has also become increasingly brazen in targeting dissidents in Europe and the Middle East. Iran basically behaves as if it is above the law and is willing to use minority groups or refugees to carry out its dirty work. It has numerous proxies and networks that span the globe. For instance, Iran has been accused of cyber-attacks in Albania.
Now the question becomes whether Iran will suffer consequences for its actions. For instance, the EU has been considering designating the Iranian IRGC as a terror group. The US already designated the group as terrorists. A report in mid-March at VOA noted that the 27-member EU bloc already has sanctions against Iran but that it has “stopped short of applying the terrorist designation.”
European members of parliament have urged the EU to take action. But there are hurdles, some of them contrived to make the process more complex. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has claimed a court must make a legal statement on the matter.
The incident in Greece could lead to some kind of legal judgment. It remains to be seen if this could be one more element that helps illustrate the terrorist nature of Iran’s regime and its attempts to undermine various countries and target people around Europe. On the other hand there are statements by Iran in which it has warned European countries not to take action. Using Pakistanis to target Israel or Jewish targets in Greece is a novel approach by Iran, and it could indicate Tehran’s preference to exploit minorities from Pakistan or migrants as a way to have plausible deniability about Iran’s direct role. However, the effective work stopping the attack also showcases Israel and Greece's close ties.
Greece and Israel have become much closer partners in the last decade. This includes issues relating to energy and also security. For instance, Greece signed a deal to lease Israeli-made drones in 2020 and Elbit Systems in Israel was selected by Greece for a flight training program with the Hellenic Air Force.
The allegations against the men in Greece also may reveal issues relating to security and migration and the need to be vigilant about these issues in the future. As the summer tourism season approaches any concerns about terror threats in Greece will be important.