Australia is the West's weak link against Iran's aggression - opinion

At some point, Australia needs to take action against Iran, even if it jeopardizes lucrative trade deals. 

 AUSTRALIA HAS been slow to condemn the violence in Iran. Penny Wong was one of the last Western foreign ministers to issue a statement, says the writer.  (photo credit: CHALINEE THIRASUPA/REUTERS)
AUSTRALIA HAS been slow to condemn the violence in Iran. Penny Wong was one of the last Western foreign ministers to issue a statement, says the writer.

Australia is the weak link in the West’s response to Iran’s human rights violations.

What do the innocent residents of Kyiv, sheltering from Russian drone attacks, have in common with the brave women taking to the streets of Iran to protest their regime?

For over two months, Iranian heroines and their male supporters have been protesting the brutal Iranian regime. The protests were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s “Morality Police” for wearing her Islamic head scarf incorrectly.

Hundreds have been killed in the demonstrations that followed, like schoolgirl Asra Panahi, who was beaten so severely that she died from internal bleeding. The protests show no signs of letting up and have spread to Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, where political prisoners, including Australians, have been held.

Recently, the White House revealed that Iranian forces operating in Ukraine are directing drone attacks. The report follows extensive coverage of Russia’s use of Iranian-supplied shahed drones to sow terror in Ukraine’s cities.

Iran’s actions come as no surprise. The Jewish community has long experienced the Iranian regime’s brutality. The Iranian Revolution was kicked off by the hanging of Habib Elghanian, a prominent leader of the Iranian Jewish community in the 1970s. Seventeen Iranian Jews were hanged on trumped-up charges. Iranian Jews got the message and fled to Israel, Australia and other places. Only a tiny remnant, about 5%, of Iran’s once substantial Jewish population of 150,000 Jews remains, their continued existence precarious.

 The Australian flag (Illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons) The Australian flag (Illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Jewish communities worldwide have been struck by Iranian-sponsored terror. Eighty-five died in a bombing at the Jewish Community Center in Argentina, and another 30 in the nearby Israeli embassy. A bus full of tourists in Bulgaria, diplomats in Thailand – all have come under attack. Nowhere is safe from Iran’s long hand.

JEWS ARE not the only minority group to suffer at the hands of the Iranian regime. Arguably, the Iranian Baha’i community suffers more than any other. Unrecognized by the government and denied all rights, the Baha’i have their property confiscated without notice and are routinely executed.

Iran’s regime reserves a special hatred for gay people. Homosexuality in Iran is punishable by death. Just weeks ago, two LGBTQ activists were sentenced to death on charges of “corruption on earth through the promotion of homosexuality.”

The Iranian regime has also wreaked devastation outside its borders. The brutal attack on Salman Rushdie was inspired by Iran’s Fatwa on his head, for example. That attack was carried out during a week in which multiple Iranian terrorist plots in the US were foiled. From Yemen to Syria, Lebanon to Iraq, Iranian interference has left nations in ruins. Now it’s coming full circle, as militias such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, who have trashed their own countries, are being unleashed on the streets of Tehran to crush the protests.

Iran is one of the few countries to stand with President Vladimir Putin. Accordingly, the Iranian ambassador was recently expelled from Ukraine. And Ukraine isn’t the only country to cut ties with Iran. In September, Albania expelled Iran’s ambassador following repeated Iranian cyberattacks. 

Australia is slow to condemn Iranian agression

Australia hasn’t been spared either. Just weeks ago, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) issued a warning about Iranian government-sponsored cyberattacks targeting the Australian infrastructure. Canberra, however, opted to take no further action.

Australia still maintains a significant presence in Tehran, where its embassy is active on social media, sharing cute pictures and the like. The country is also seeking to expand trade with Iran, putting money before morals. At some point, Australia needs to take action, even if it jeopardizes lucrative trade deals. 

Australia has been slow to condemn the violence in Iran. Penny Wong, the Australian minister was one of the last Western foreign affairs ministers to issue a statement in this regard. Her tardiness stands in marked contrast to her rush to declare that Australia did not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Her recent comments on Iran were that “the world is watching.” Watching and stern words alone aren’t enough, however. 

In 2009, when Iranians took to the streets to protest the regime, Western leaders issued supportive statements but took no practical steps. Barack Obama, who was president at the time, recently admitted this was a mistake as the protests were violently crushed. The West cannot make the same mistake again.

In terms of action, Australia is woefully behind their allies. Canada has led the way, by, inter alia, permanently banning 10,000 senior Iranian regime operatives from Canadian soil. The US, Britain and the EU have all gone further than Australia, with recent announcements of new sanctions.

Australia is the weak link in Western opposition to Iranian regime brutality. The Australian Jewish Association (AJA) recently made submissions to a Senate inquiry into human rights abuses in Iran. Along with sanctions on Iran’s vicious “Morality Police” and its drone and missile exports, the AJA proposed that Australia should follow the American lead and proscribe the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. But there is another action Australia can and should take.

In 2016, the Australian trade office in Iran – previously closed in 2010 – was reopened in the hope that Iran would moderate its behavior. This has clearly not happened. Australia’s focus on increasing trade with Iran is an anomaly among our close allies. It allows the Iranian regime to use trade as a fig leaf for their human rights violations. The AJA believes that Australia should shut its trade office in Iran.

Taking these practical steps would be a strong display of support for the victims of the regime that includes the LGBTQ, Baha’i and Jewish communities, as well as the Ukrainian people. 

More importantly, Australia would stand with the women of Iran who have captivated the world’s attention. They are the ones who are literally risking their lives to oppose this brutal government. Failure to act now may sentence the Iranian people, and innocents worldwide, to decades more suffering under this oppressive regime.

The writer is the director of public affairs at the Australian Jewish Association (AJA).