German chancellor Angela Merkel's speech last week to the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) in Manhattan, when compared with her administration’s Iran policies, shows the gap between pro-Israel action and flowery pro-Israel rhetoric. The LBI, which researches German-Jewish history, honored Merkel with the institute’s prize for promoting “German Jewish reconciliation” and for supporting Israel. In her acceptance speech, Merkel said, “Our expectations from Iran include that it recognize the security and existence of the State of Israel. Both are never negotiable for Germany.” She also called for—in nebulous terms—a new round of sanctions against Iran but did not mention slashing her country's flourishing trade with the mullahs (which has increased at a 14 percent rate during the first six months of 2010 when compared to the same period in 2009).
Merkel has skillfully used every opportunity (including in the U.S. Congress and Knesset) to champion her pro-Israel, pro-American, and anti-Iranian policies. But is she hoodwinking the Israelis and Americans with her rhetoric?
While Merkel was uttering the politically and socially correct statements about Germany's so-called “special relationship” with Israel and scoring superficial points at the LBI, German activists protested her failure to close the notorious EIH Iranian “terror bank” in Hamburg, which represents perhaps the greatest threat to the security of the Jewish state on German soil.
Another window into Germany’s pro-Iranian business position is Germany's leading business daily Handelsblatt, which has made great efforts over the years to oppose robust sanctions against Iran. Matthias Brüggmann complained last week in a commentary titled, “Why Sanctions are absurd,” that German firms have experienced “massive blackmail” from the U.S. to pull out of Iran. In short, companies such as Thyssen-Krupp, Siemens, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Linde, Allianz und Commerzbank feared the loss of the U.S-based contracts and recoiled from Iranian deals in order not to jeopardize their business with the United States.
What Brüggmann and many German journalists fail to understand is flexing one's economic muscles to promote democracy and protect the West is the right form of American economic might. Invoking economic leverage to change despotic regimes should be embraced by Germany's young democracy, for it is a sign of democratic maturity. All of this means that if Chancellor Merkel wants to fill the German-Israeli “special relationship” with meaning and content at a critical security juncture in Israel's history, she should evict the EIH “terror bank” from Germany and crackdown on the vast sector of mid-level German engineering firms supplying Iran's infrastructure with invaluable technology. German corporations such as BASF and MAN, whose large operations in Iran are serving as a crutch for the Iranian regime, need to be roped in.
Chancellor Merkel can also, following America's lead, use Germany's economic leverage in Europe to compel the Swiss to walk away from their 18 and 27 billion euros gas deal with the Iranian regime.
The mere threat that Switzerland and its giant energy company EGL will be denied access to German contracts and markets would, without question, influence a radical change in the pro-Ahmadinejad attitude of Swiss foreign minister Calmy-Rey.
Roger Koppel, chief editor of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche noted in a Wall Street Journal Europe piece: "It is a miracle that her most disastrous act so far went almost unnoticed. In December 2006, she received an Iranian delegation for talks on the nuclear program. To the horror of her closest colleagues, she came up with the idea of improving relations by holding a seminar on differing perceptions of the Holocaust.”
Merkel's top diplomat, German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, like his Swiss counterpart Calmy-Rey, requires a remedial course in understanding eliminatory anti-Semitism. Iranian president Ahmadinejad delivered his vile tirade accusing the U.S government as the engine behind the 9/11 attacks “to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime.” His oft-repeated hatred of the Jewish state reached its zenith last week when he said, “All values, even the freedom of expression in Europe and in the United States, are being sacrificed at the altar of Zionism.”
The U.S mission spokesman Mark Kornblau did not shy away and issued the right formulations: “Rather than representing the aspirations and goodwill of the Iranian people, Mr Ahmadinejad has yet again chosen to spout vile conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic slurs that are as abhorrent and delusional as they are predictable.”
As the popular German blogger Thomas von der Osten-Sacken pointed out on the Free Iran website, Westerwelle merely termed Ahmadinejad's hate “rhetorically confused” and “distasteful lapses.” In contrast, Westerwelle had labeled the crackpot preacher Terry Jones's proposed Koran book burning “religious terrorism.” It is a tospy-turvy world when Germany's foreign minister gets more bent out of shape about a crazy preacher than an insane tyrant who is about to acquire nuclear weapons.
Westerwelle and Merkel went to great lengths last week in New York to promote Germany's candidacy for a non-standing seat in the UN Security Council. Canada and Portugal are also competing for the UN Security Council seat. Given Germany's recalcitrant position toward clamping down on its trade with Iran and shutting the Hamburg-based Iranian terror bank EIH, the Obama administration should consider the Merkel administration's woefully flawed Iran policy as a factor in blocking its UN Security Council bid. Canada has employed a harder line against the Iranian regime and merits a role on the Security Council.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.