The Magazine

German-Iranian Relations

A lovers' discourse.

Nov 30, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 11 • By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
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On November 3, six days before the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, freshly reelected German chancellor Angela Merkel delivered what many German commentators deemed to be the speech of her political career before a joint session of Congress. Merkel championed the unwavering contribution of American presidents Reagan, Bush senior, and Kennedy in bringing down the Berlin Wall.

The Merkel administration's own derelict Iran policy, however, has bolstered the wall between the West and the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of Iranians seeking a democratic nation as well as a break with the jingoistic foreign policy of their mullahs.Her robust rhetoric in Washington--"zero tolerance must also be shown if .  .  . weapons of mass destruction fall into the hands of Iran"--is belied by the ongoing sweet talk between Tehran and Berlin.

This long-standing lover's discourse, initiated by German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher in 1984, is largely defined by the Islamic Republic's infatuation with German technology, and the Federal Republic's willingness to reciprocate--for example, by permitting Siemens-Nokia to supply surveillance technology to the Iranian regime in 2008. The monitoring equipment was used to stifle Internet, Twitter, mobile, and landline communications among Iranian protestors following the rigged election in June.

Notwithstanding Merkel and former Social Democratic party (SPD) foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's tough talk about turning the economic screws on the mullahs, the ex-Grand Coalition between the SPD and Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union failed between 2005 and 2009 to introduce unilateral sanctions. The significance of German technology in sustaining the Iranian regime was neatly summed up by Michael Tockuss, the former president of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce in Tehran: "Some two-thirds of Iranian industry relies on German engineering products."

Merkel's new governing coalition with the pro-business Free Democratic party (FDP) might very well bring us Act II of Germany's impotent Iran foreign policy. The FDP, the party of Germany's new foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, vehemently rejects curtailing German-Iranian trade, and during the 2002 federal election Westerwelle tolerated the late Jürgen Möllemann's (a top FDP politician) mass-mailing of election flyers bashing former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Möllemann's campaign strategy was widely viewed as the first public use of anti-Semitism to win over voters since the Hitler movement.

That toxic combination of pro-Iran trade policies and Westerwelle's hands-off approach to Möllemann's loathing of Israel helps to explain why the national security alarm bells promptly rang in Israel as Westerwelle became the new foreign minister.

Berlin's liaison with Tehran makes a mockery of Germany's so-called "special relationship" with Israel. The latter is now the jilted lover that Germany attempts to reassure, even as its actions dash Israel's expectations of fidelity. As Merkel declared to Congress that "Israel's security will never be open to negotiation," Israeli naval commandos were preparing a mission to seize the Francop, the German-owned vessel that carried a massive cache of Iranian-supplied rockets and weapons and was headed for Tehran's proxy militia Hezbollah in Lebanon and its allies in Syria.

To compound the gap between Merkel's rhetoric and the flourishing German-Iranian relationship (nearly 4 billion euros of trade in 2008), in early October, the Hansa India, sailing under a German flag and owned by the Hamburg-based Leonhardt and Blumberg company, was confiscated in the Red Sea by the U.S. Navy for unlawfully transporting ammunition to Syria and Hezbollah.

The Francop seizure--40 containers filled with 300 tons of weapons and rockets--represents, according to Israel's navy chief Brigadier General Rani Ben-Yehuda, an arsenal capable of sustaining a Hezbollah war against Israel for at least a month. That the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) chartered the Hansa India, and the Francop sailed from Iran with cargo listing IRISL, should not have surprised German authorities. The Bush administration designated IRISL in September 2008 as a criminal entity involved in unlawful arms trafficking, including equipment that is integral to Iran's illegal nuclear weapons program. For the same reason, the United Kingdom banned trade with IRISL in early October.

Despite declarations from Merkel that Israel's existence is integral to Germany's national security interests, then, the Iranians have used German vessels to transport weaponry to murder Israelis and destabilize the region in violation of U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran.

And add the striking irony of Merkel's administration agreeing to employ German naval carriers to enforce the 2006 U.N.-brokered cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel during the Second War in Lebanon. Germany deployed its navy as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon to prevent the rearming of Hezbollah along the Lebanese coast. Three years of patrols have brought zero seizures by Germany's marine forces, even as private German shipping firms charter their vessels to Iran's merchants of death.

Merkel's speech ignored the reality on the ground between Iran and Germany. Iranian despot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is rapidly exporting his brand of revolutionary Iranian anti-Semitism to the Middle East and to South and Central America. What better way could Merkel find to confront the mullahs than to announce that the Federal Republic of Germany is prepared to cease economic activity with Iran and recall its ambassador because of the regime's denial of the Holocaust; its refusal to suspend its nuclear enrichment program; and Tehran's threats to "wipe Israel off the map."

Moreover, Merkel's party controls the interior ministry and is thus uniquely positioned to ban Hezbollah and its 900 active members in Germany. Hezbollah remains a legal political organization in Germany and serves as a funding stream for its Iran-affiliated network in Lebanon.

A new "Berlin Wall" and "short- sighted self-interests" were Merkel's jabs at Congress for failing to push for radical environmental standards. Germany's fixation on scolding the Americans is child's play when compared with the effect of Germany's main security blind spot, namely, its 25-year-old dalliance with the Islamic Republic and the relationship's deleterious effects on the security of the international community.

Should the second Merkel administration wish to fulfill its lofty rhetoric about tearing down new Berlin Walls worldwide it might instead decide to aid Iranian democrats seeking a collapse of the wall separating them from freedom. How about a lover's discourse with the pro-democracy movement in Iran rather than with the mullahs' incorrigibly reactionary regime?

Benjamin Weinthal is the Jerusalem Post's correspondent in Berlin.

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