The device was detonated harmlessly by municipal police on January 8, leaving officials and observers to speculate on whether the convincing-looking fake explosive was intended as a means of intimidation or as a sort of dry-run for a real bombing, in order to test emergency responses and security protocols.

The prospective connection to actual Iranian-orchestrated terrorism invites obvious comparisons to Iran’s well-known terrorist activities in South America and elsewhere during the 80s and 90s, including the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. That incident has been given renewed attention recently, in light of the apparent assassination of Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had spent 10 years investigating the incident and was on the verge of providing evidence implicating several high-ranking Iranian officials in the planning of the bombing.

But Nisman’s investigation also led him to accuse the Argentinian government of making a secret deal to shield the Iranians from prosecution in exchange for favorable trade agreements. Opponents of the regime in Tehran have pointed to this case as an example of how some Western governments may have tacitly contributed to the expansion of Iran’s foreign adventurism and other illicit activities.

The recent actions of the Uruguayan government point to the possibilities for Western governments to instead intervene and address those Iranian misdeeds. In many cases, such international cooperation may be necessary in order to hold Iranian officials to account for international crimes. 

Of course Tehran has steadfastly avoided becoming an ICC member state, and has thus avoided the responsibility to bring its own officials to trial for the human rights violations that make Iran consistently the worst country for imprisonment of journalists, the top-ranked country for per capita applications of the death penalty, one of the worst countries for the rights of religious minorities, and so on.

If Iranian human rights violators were to be captured in a ICC member state such as Afghanistan or Tajikistan, they could be brought before the UN body and held for trial. This seems increasingly plausible, ironically because recent policies of looking the other way on Iranian adventurism has allowed Tehran to establish a significant and seemingly permanent presence in a number of other countries in the region.

But of course any such prosecution would require not only Iranian presence on foreign territory but also political will on the part of local officials and leading UN member states. It is not clear that that political will exists, for instance, within the Obama administration, which was sharply criticized by Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations in a blog post on Friday.

Abrams quoted Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s testimony before the Senate Banking Committee and called attention to the fact that Blinken condemned Iranian human rights violations and regional aggression, but without giving any indication of actual, concrete steps that the administration is taking to confront Tehran on those issues.

Abrams says that in response to the expansion of Iranian influence in Yemen and the Golan Heights, its provision of advanced weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas, and its prolongation of the Syrian Civil War, “the United States ‘continues to insist,’ we’ve ‘spoken to’ Iran about all of this, raised our voices, and we’ve even ‘called out’ Iran,” but have done nothing more, and nothing of much value.

Opponents of the regime in Tehran can generally be expected to say that something substantial must be done to confront that regime from the outside, because the prospects are dim for purely internal change.

The repressive and intimidating activities of the regime have been well publicized. And as highlighted by a brief report this week by the Human Rights Activists News Agency, that repression is not only aimed against outright dissent and undesirable affiliations but also against any social trends that point in the direction of increased tolerance, rejection of fundamentalism, or any resistance to the regime’s ideology.

HRANA notes that in two months in the city of Rasht, 20 Muslim residents have been summoned by the Ministry of Intelligence and subjected to threats and repeated interrogations of up to seven hours each, all for no other reason than because they had maintained some sorts of business or personal relationships with members of the Baha’i religious minority, which is banned by the regime.

It is unlikely that even a change of leadership would alter these trends in absence of considerable pressure from the outside. Patheos notes that the Assembly of Experts, which chooses and ostensibly oversees Iran’s supreme leader, is poised to receive a new chairman in advance of the selection of a new ruling ayatollah to replace Ali Khamenei upon his death. The author speculates that the best case scenario for the new head of the Assembly is former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. But even this cannot be expected to generate a sea change in Iranian governance, and is a very unlikely scenario anyway. Patheos argues that the most likely next occupant of the seat will be a mainline conservative who would exactly maintain the current status quo, and that the worst case scenario is an extreme hardliner with a strong record of supporting the suppression of free speech and the press.