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An Unholy Alliance

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There is no reason to question Herrenknecht’s assertion that their machines were sold for civilian purposes, but can one really trust the recipients of German technology? After all, most of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities are dug underground, like the clandestine nuclear enrichment facility at Fordow, embedded under a mountain.

Herrenknecht insists that their Iranian partners are all private companies, but some of its technology went to a company called Sabir International. Formerly owned by a Ministry of Energy company currently run by Mohammad Sattari Vafaei, an IRGC Brigadier General formerly an advisor to Iraniran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sabir International was privatized in 2005. But privatization in Iran usually enriches government cronies.

Sabir International’s current shareholders are two companies, Sabir Niroo and Sunir. Sabir Niroo’s chairman, Seyed Esmail Mofidi, who once worked for the IRGC’s Construction Jihad, has held various government and public jobs. Sunir is a public consortium of companies that include designated or IRGC-affiliated entities such as the Fulmen Group and Mahab Ghodss Engineering. Sunir’s chairman, Mahmoud Jannatian, has been on the EU sanctions list since 2008, due to his previous job as deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. He is also a board member at the MAPNA group, an entity linked to proliferation efforts.

None of this suggests that Herrenknecht is directly or intentionally dealing with the IRGC. But it should make any Western company pause before doing business with partners such as Sabir International. Nonetheless, as Herrenknecht’s recent sales prove, German trade with Iran continues to grow.

In a recent Focus Magazine article, the former head of Germany’s Secret Service urged the West to convey a blunt message to Iran’s decision makers, that “sanctions will continue to be tightened” and pressure increased. But this was not the message that Dijr-Farai and his companions took to Tehran, or the signal that German companies send on a daily basis through their ongoing business.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is author of The Pasdaran: Inside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (FDD Press, 2011) and a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow.

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