Only hours before German chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Berlin on Thursday, her government did a deal worth billions with the greatest threat to Israel’s existence.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle arranged for the German central Bundesbank and the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank (EIH) to facilitate a massive crude oil transaction between India and Iran, pumping billions of euros into Tehran’s coffers.
Though, EIH is subject to U.S. sanctions, Westerwelle’s Foreign Ministry allowed the Bundesbank to clear a crude oil payment from India to the regime that controls National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). The U.S. had twisted arms at India’s Asia Clearing Union to block the payment, but the Merkel administration agreed to do the job.
If past is prologue, these oil funds will soon fill the pockets of Iran’s most dangerous men, allowing them to advance their military and nuclear ambitions, and support their terrorist proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah. All of this helps explain why Germany’s main business daily, Handelsblatt, quoted Israel’s local embassy spokesman Yinam Cohen calling for the closure of EIH on its front page earlier this week.
The troika – Bundesbank, Germany’s Foreign Ministry, and EIH – reveal Germany’s deep involvement in sustaining the Iranian regime, allowing it to repress its pro-democracy movement, and sweeping its vast human rights abuses under the rug.
While Chancellor Merkel reacted slowly to the disturbing revelations about Germany’s financial dealings with Tehran, she did stop payments to Iran on Wednesday, the day Netanyahu’s plane landed in Berlin. Her decision to turn the screws on EIH arose not from her supposed commitment to Israel’s security but, rather, because the U.S. Treasury said it “is concerned about recent reports that the German government authorized the use of E.I.H. as a conduit for India’s oil payments to Iran,”
Sadly, Merkel only seems to moderate her government’s substantial economic cooperation with Iran when she fears it could endanger German firms’ access to American markets.
The German firm Siemens and its Finnish partner Nokia sold the Iranian leaders surveillance equipment in 2008, which they promptly used to repress Iran’s pro-democracy movement the following year. The Siemens-Nokia technology (“Intelligence Platforms”) can also be used to monitor flight and traffic movements and intercept telecommunications to and from the Jewish state.
Last July, the European Union—perhaps under pressure from Germany and Finland—excluded telecommunications equipment from the list of technologies subject to Iran sanctions. Germany also persuaded the EU not to block EIH.
In 2008, Merkel told the Israeli Knesset that Iran’s nuclear program must be stopped, and that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable” for her country. Yet Germany remains Iran’s number one European business partner, with an annual trade volume of roughly €4 billion.
If Germany were serious about Israel’s security, it would ban EIH, and initiate tough unilateral sanctions on Iran in the model of those enacted by the U.S. in 2010.
Instead, last year, the Bundestag chose to smack Israel with a resolution for “violating the principle of proportionality” by employing self defense measures against the radical activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, who were in violation of Israel’s defensive naval blockade of Gaza. Merkel stood by as members of her governing coalition voted unanimously to condemn Israel. The measure passed without a single dissenting vote among the more than 600 members of parliament, an eerie reminder of Kaiser Wilhelm II's famous line: "I know no more parties, I know only Germans!"
The Israelis understandably viewed Merkel’s equivocal stance on the resolution as a step back from her pledge before the Knesset to protect their security interests.
At the very least, Merkel could juice her domestic industries by doing business with Israel. She could green light the sale of a sixth Dolphin submarine, which the Israelis requested this week. In response, Merkel vaguely stated that she had discussed Israel’s “comprehensive security situation” with Netanyahu.
Will she ever match words with actions?
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.