Online magazine highlighting research, news and analysis covering the European Neighbourhood

Albania cuts diplomatic ties with Iran

Albania has ordered all staff of the Iranian Embassy in Tirana to leave the country. This follows a major cyberattack on July 15th that the Albanian government blames on Iran.

On Brussels Report, Maurizio Geri, a researcher on international affairs and a former NATO analys, highlights:

“In 2014, Albania welcomed some 3,000 members of the exiled Iranian opposition group People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, also known as MEK, into the country, from Iraq. The majority of the members of the group settled in a camp near the bustling Albanian port city Durres.

Since then, Tirana has become a center of intrigue, as Iranian agents have flooded the country with an aim to keep a close eye on the leading Iranian dissident group.”

He adds that “Iran’s involvement in the Western Balkans dates back to the 1990s”, specifying:

“It very much looks like the cyber-attack uncovered this Summer was launched from Iran. It was particularly malicious, as it was aimed at wiping data from devices used by the Iranian opposition. These data included careful records of some of the Iranian regime’s activities and crimes.

Students of Eastern Europe should note this is not the first time that Iran has sought to flex its muscles in the Western Balkans. The Iranian regime’s interest in the region date back to the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.

In 1994, the Clinton Administration looked the other way as Iran shipped weapons to Bosnia. Eventually, thousands of Iranian “advisers” would travel to the Balkans over the ensuing decades. Iran and its front organization, Hezbollah, continue to be active in the Balkan region to this day.

We also witness Iranian activity within the European Union. Most prominently, there is the ongoing story of Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat who has been convicted of attempting to launch a terrorist attack on a political rally in 2018. That 2018 rally took place in Paris and it was a large gathering of the Iranian opposition which included not only thousands of MEK supporters but also European and American politicians.

It sounded like a scene straight from a 20th century spy novel. In September, all staff of the Iranian Embassy in Tirana were given 24 hours to leave Albania over a major cyberattack on July 15th that the Albanian government blames on Iran.

“The government has decided with immediate effect to end diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama had stated, warning that Albania’s cyber-attack was an effort to “paralyse public services, erase digital systems and hack into state records, steal government intranet electronic communication and stir chaos and insecurity in the country.”

The decision by the Albanian government was however also sparked by a disinformation campaign aimed at an Iranian opposition group which is resident in Albania since 2014.”