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EU weighs sanctions against Iran over Israel-Hamas war

EU weighs sanctions against Iran over Israel-Hamas war

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The EU is discussing ramping up sanctions against Iran over its support for Hamas — but there is a wide split among EU diplomats over whether that’s a good idea.

Meanwhile, the big three EU member states — Germany, France and Italy — also have drawn up plans, seen by POLITICO, on how to further sanction Hamas.

Tehran has long been a key backer of Hamas, which carried out attacks on October 7 in which some 1,400 Israeli citizens were killed and more than 240 people kidnapped. Despite this history of support from Tehran, however, some U.S. and Israeli officials have played down the extent to which Iran was directly involved in, or even aware of, Hamas’ plans for October 7.  

Still, some within the EU want to prepare extra sanctions on Iran, in particular a ban on the export of components used in the production of missiles.

The EU listed Hamas as a terrorist organization years ago and there are a number of sanctions already in place. As for Iran, last month the EU decided to keep in place its sanctions linked to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. And since July, Brussels has a new sanctions regime that prohibits the export of components used in drones after accusations that Iran was supplying Russia with drones used to bomb Ukraine.  

Broadening those measures is now causing a stir in Brussels, according to three EU diplomats briefed on the discussions who were granted anonymity to speak freely because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

The proposal was discussed last week in a working group of diplomats specialized in the Middle East at the Council, the legislative body where member states sit. 

In that meeting several EU countries raised red flags about the timing of the proposal, arguing that it could backfire and escalate the conflict in the Middle East. Escalating the conflict is “exactly what the EU wants to avoid,” one of the diplomats said.

On the opposite side of the argument, some EU countries said it would make sense to have measures ready if there is proof that Iran was involved in the attack on October 7 or if Tehran escalates the situation in the region. 

Fresh Hamas sanctions

The EU has come under pressure from the U.S. and Israel to impose new sanctions on Hamas. And the bloc’s three biggest countries — Germany, France and Italy — have proposed new sanctions against Hamas and its international backers in a so-called non-paper (a non-official EU document) seen by POLITICO.

In the three-page document, dated November 9, they write that “it is important to step up engagement to isolate Hamas internationally and delegitimise the false narrative of Hamas as ‘defender of the (just) Palestinian cause.’”

The document adds that “once political conditions are right,” these new measures should ideally be implemented by a broad coalition of states, with a strong presence of Arab countries.  

The aim is to deprive Hamas of resources (such as finance and weapons), as well as target its infrastructure outside Gaza and its political and public standing.

One proposal is to expand the current sanctions regime – which has listed Hamas as a terrorist organization since 2003 — to include more individuals from the organization. The document also suggests expanding the sanctions in place against Iran over its support for Russia “to target support to Hamas” related to the provision of arms such as missiles.

The EEAS declined to comment, with a spokesperson these meetings are “internal, confidential … [and do] not belong to the media.” 

The Spanish presidency of the Council refused to comment.

Iranian denial

A long-standing backer of both Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran denied any involvement in the surprise incursion into Israel by Hamas.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has praised Hamas but has also stressed that “those who say that the recent saga is the work of non-Palestinians” are wrong, according to Iranian state news agency IRNA

Fear of its ambitions remains, however, and U.S. President Joe Biden warned Iran and others who might be thinking of attacking Israel: “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.” Concerns tend to focus on Hezbollah in Lebanon opening a full second front against Israel from the north, and on Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen firing missiles down the Red Sea.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, hinted Tehran supported Hamas in the form of “aid” and “cooperation” but made clear he had “no comment to make on Iran’s direct involvement” in the atrocities.

On top of that, some diplomats argue that new measures could also have an effect on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, although that deal has been politically dead for a while.

According to the second diplomat, the EU’s external action service (EEAS), the bloc’s diplomatic body, has been asked by member states to debrief the working group on the possible implications of going ahead with such a sanctions proposal against Iran. 

The third diplomat said these were very preliminary discussions, mainly held so member countries can ask legal and political questions without having to take a firm stance, adding the proposal could well fail to get the support needed to move forward.

Gregorio Sorgi contributed reporting

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