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by Matthias Küntzel


We stand at a historic crossroads. Disregarding Security Council decisions, Iran’s rulers are stepping up their nuclear programme. Will Europe continue soft-soaping the Mullahs or will it show some resolve? Will it accept the fact that, by seeking nuclear weapons, the Iranian dictatorship is escalating its holy war at the gates of Europe? Or will it summon up the will to raise the economic price Iran must pay to a point where the regime – which is facing mounting popular discontent – has to give way?

If any power is still able to get the regime in Tehran to back off without the use of military force, then that power is the European Union. The USA can’t do it because it has no trade with Iran. China, Japan and Russia can’t do it either, because Iran can get along without them. But Iran needs Europe. Iran gets 40% of its imports from the EU, which in turn takes in 25% of Iranian exports.

While Japan and China are interested in Iran essentially as a source of energy supplies, Germany, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and France provide the Iranian economy with vital investments. Trading partner number one was and is Germany; as the former President of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce in Tehran, Michael Tockuss, has explained, „some two thirds of Iranian industry relies on German engineering products. The Iranians are certainly dependent on German spare parts and suppliers.“

Certainly dependent! The potential leverage of economic sanctions couldn’t be clearer. Since then a study by the Iranian Parliament has stated the obvious: without European spare parts and industrial goods the Iranian economy would grind to a halt within a few months. If anyone is still in a position to use this lever before it is too late, then it is Germany and the EU.

Of course Europe should have done so back in 2003, when Tehran was obliged to admit that it had been pursuing a secret nuclear programme for the past eighteen years. Nuclear weapons in the hands of the world’s number one sponsor of terrorism? The public was alarmed. But what happened? Let’s take a closer look at what Germany did then.

Instead of immediately cutting technology transfers to Iran, German exports to Iran grew. Instead of immediately stopping Hermes export credit guarantees for trade with Iran, they were increased to a particularly high level. So instead of taking steps to get Iran to change its nuclear policy, Berlin actually rewarded Iran for its years of breaching the non-proliferation treaty.

In its 2004 annual report on export guarantees, Berlin’s Economics Ministry even dedicated a special section to Iran that captures its giddy exitement about business with Tehran: „Federal Government export credit guarantees played a crucial role for German exports to Iran; the volume of coverage of Iranian buyers rose by a factor of almost 3,5 to some € 2,3 billion compared the previous year,“ the report said. „The Federal Government thus insured something like 65% of total German exports to the country. Iran lies second in the league of countries with the highest coverage in 2004, hot on the heels of China.“

This policy was a stab in the back for Iranian student and human rights groups, since there can be no question here of „change through trade“. On the contrary. Three quarters of all Iranian industrial firms are in state hands. The export deals are not being struck with the private sector, but with the regime’s „Revolutionary Foundations“ such as the „Martyrs Foundations“ run by Islamist hardliners. These „little kings“, as they are known in Iran, are personally appointed by the revolutionary leadership and Parliament has no control over them. Most are or have been involved in terrorism or weapons of mass destruction programmes.

German export support bolsters the Mullahs‘ nuclear ambitions in three ways. Firstly, a proportion of any money lent to the regime is spent on nuclear research. Iran wants to allocate 1.4 billion dollars for the construction of 20 new nuclear reactors. Iranian state TV reported last week that a Parliamentary Committee has now approved this expenditure. Secondly, every export deal strengthens the internal position of the hardliners, who are invariably hardliners on the nuclear issue too. Thirdly, the country is getting state-of-the-art technology of a sort that can be used in the nuclear sphere. For example, in August 2003 Siemens – a firm with expertise in the field of nuclear power station construction – signed a contract for the delivery of 24 power stations. To make this deal, Siemens had to commit itself to „technology transfer with regard to small and medium-sized power stations“.

2005 marked a further watershed. Now, a hardliner had become President. Ahmadinejad’s tirades about Israel, the Holocaust and the Twelfth Iman shed a harsh new light on the special threat presented by Iran’s nuclear programme. This was not only a good opportunity, but also a truly compelling reason for a change of export policy towards Iran. Indeed, the OECD raised Iran’s rating of the risk regarding possible export guarantees. Exports became more expensive and the mood among exporters worsened. In the first half of 2006 German exports to Iran fell by 12%. But the German government – despite the Holocaust denial and threats to annihilate Israel –continued to promote exports as if nothing had happened. Between January and July 2006 exports to Iran were valued at 2.3 billion euros and some 20% of all Hermes export credit guarantees were still being devoted to business with Iran.

Today, in 2007, Iran is on the verge of being able to produce enriched uranium on an industrial scale. But Berlin continues to oppose the establishment of an effective sanctions regime by a „coalition of the willing“ going beyond the limits of the Security Council resolutions. On the contrary, the German government even intends to grant new Hermes export credit guarantees for trade with Iran. As the Minister for the Economy defiantly announced two weeks ago, the policy will not be changed just „because of new political obstacles. (…) Iran-related export credit guarantees are still available“ (Nachrichten für Außenhandel, 22 February 2007). Undeterred, the Federal Government’s home page is appealing for German firms to participate in Iranian trade fairs: in April 2007, the „Iran Oil and Gas Show“; in May 2007, the „Iran Food and Bev Tec“ Show; in October 2007, the „International Industrial Show“; in November 2007, „Iranplast – The International Plastic and Rubber Show“. For this latter event, the Federal Government website informs us, „the German engineering industry, with a market share of 47% of all imported equipment, is the most important partner“.

What do the turning points of 2003, 2005 and 2007 show us? They show the stubbornness with which business and political leaders constantly follow the same paradigm: Iran’s nuclear ambitions are treated as a negligible quantity, with „business as usual“ taking priority. They act as if it is a matter of secondary importance whether Iran has nuclear weapons or not and are taking their distance from those advocating sanctions. They seem to have fallen prey to the illusion that a nuclear Iran would have no impact on Europe. But there could be no bigger mistake. An Iran with nuclear weapons would be a nightmare not only for Israel, but also for Europe itself.

If Iran were to develop nuclear weapons, the whole of the Middle East would go nuclear too – whether because the Iranian regime would fulfil its promise to pass the technology on to its friends or because the Arab regimes would seek their own nuclear capability in Iran’s wake. The specific danger presented by the Iranian bomb, however, stems from the unique ideological atmosphere surrounding it – a mixture of death-wish and weapons-grade uranium, of Holocaust denial and High-Tec, of fantasies of world domination and missile research, of Shiite messianism and plutonium. There are other dictatorships in the world. But in Iran the fantasy-worlds of antisemitism and religious mission are linked with technological megalomania and the physics of mass destruction. For the first time we face a danger that first appeared on the horizon 70 years ago: a kind of „Adolf Hitler“ with nuclear weapons.

Does anyone here really believe that Europe would be hardly affected by this? As Angela Merkel informed us recently, „We must take the Iranian President’s rhetoric seriously“. Quite right! Ahmadinejad is gleefully contemplating the end of liberal democracy as a whole: „Those with insights can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems“, as he wrote in a letter to President Bush, reiterating the shared view of the entire theocratic elite. He sees himself and his country as being in the midst of a „historical war that has been underway for hundreds of years“ and drums into the heads of his followers that „we must make ourselves aware of the baseness of our enemy, such that our holy hatred will spread ever further like a wave.“ In order to win this war, the Shahab 5 medium-range missile, which can carry nuclear warheads and strike almost any target in Europe, is being built. In order to win this war, thousands of suicide bombers have been recruited and Hezbollah cells established throughout Europe – cells whose members are under the direct command of the Iranian secret services.

Europe will at once find itself in a new situation if Iran gets the bomb. Whether or not Iran formally declares itself to be a nuclear power is secondary. In the same way as the death sentence on British author Salman Rushdie succeeded in striking fear into thousands of hearts, so will Iran’s nuclear option serve to torpedo any prospect of peace in the Middle East and keep Europe in line.

Something has to happen to prevent this scenario from becoming a reality. Which brings me back to the final remaining non-military resort in the conflict with Iran: tough sanctions.

Of course, even outside America there are firms that are behaving responsibly, firms about which it could be said that, even if they perhaps don’t always engage in „fair trade“, they are at least committed to „terror-free trade“, firms that have either totally ceased involvement in Iran or reduced their activities to a minimum. Among them are the Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse, the oil major BP and Allianz. They no longer want to get their hands dirty.

But then there is the far longer list of firms that want to do business with the jihadists in Tehran, albeit in increasing secrecy, since they wish to keep their partnership with the Iranian regime out of the public eye. Among them are giants like BASF, Henkel, Continental, Bahlsen, Krupp, Linde, Lurgi, Siemens, ZF Freidrichshafen, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Scania, Volvo, MAN, Shell, Total, Hansa Chemie, Hoechst, OMV, Renault and SAS as well as smaller firms such as Stahlbau Schauenberg , Schernier and Wolf Thermo-Module.

From now on we should call such firms what they are: silent partners in terrorism, the useful idiots of Tehran’s Holy War.

Tehran is purposefully driving on towards nuclear weapons; time is at a premium. The security environment for the twenty-first century is being decided right now. Tomorrow, will we already be living in the shadow of the Iranian bomb? Or can the international community still stop Ahmadinejad and his regime?

If respect for the victims of the Holocaust still counts for anything in Germany today, then any firm that does business with the antisemitic regime – a regime that promotes suicide terrorism, finances Hezbollah and has explicitly stated its goal of destroying Israel – must be exposed and denounced. If Germany’s civil society wishes to make good on its claim that it has learned the lessons of history, then pressure must be exerted on the Federal Government until it does what has to be done to prevent the Iranian bomb. If Germany and the EU fail to put prompt and massive pressure on Iran and confront it with the alternative of either changing course or suffering devastating economic blows, all that will remain will be the choice between a bad solution – the military option – and a dreadful one – the Iranian bomb.

Germany and Europe must cease to be the sleeping partners of terrorism. We must put a stop to the international competition to see who can make the dirtiest deal in Iran. We must break with an approach that is leading with businesslike efficiency to catastrophe.



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