Are booming German-Iran business relations hurting Israel?

The boost in German-Iran trade comes as Israel and Germany prepare to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations.

By
March 8, 2015 06:10
3 minute read.
Iran

Iran marks the 36th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. (photo credit: screenshot)

Fresh trade data show Germany’s industry secured a windfall in revenue due to the easing of Iran sanctions.

According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, German exports to the Islamic Republic in 2014 climbed by 30 percent to reach €2.4 billion.

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The strong revival of German-Iranian relations comes at a sensitive time for Israel. Germany and Israel are immersed in a series of celebratory events to remember the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

The boost in German-Iran trade – and a late-February pro-Iran business event sponsored by the Hannover chamber of industry and commerce – triggered a public rebuke from Israel.

“Obviously the organizing body aims to enhance trade relations with Iran, but now is not the time for such initiatives – both because of the fact that the international sanctions are still in place and because of the sensitive stage of the current negotiations between the E3+3 [China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States] and Iran,” a spokeswoman for Israel’s embassy told The Jerusalem Post.

“In addition one should not forget that Iran was and remains a country which supports, finances and executes murderous terrorism around the globe, including its military support of the Syrian regime and Hezbollah,” she added.

“Iran is a country where human rights are trampled (more than 8 people were executed in the past days) and where currently an International Holocaust Cartoon competition is held, and provides an opportunity for Holocaust deniers to present their vicious and outrageous ‘art,’ distorting the memory of one of the most tragic events in human history,” she continued.

Dr. Kazem Moussavi, an Iranian dissident in Berlin, called the Hannover business breakfast parley with Iran a “cynical event.” He is outraged over the German government’s role at the event in light of the “dramatic intensification of hangings in Iran.”

The event was attended by Roland Westebbe, an official of Germany’s foreign ministry from its international business and financial section.

Daniel Bernbeck, director of the German-Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, organized the event. He aroused anger among Iranians and human rights advocates when he dismissed human rights concerns after then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doctored the 2009 presidential election and violently gutted the country’s democratic Green Movement.

Bernbeck said at the time that he saw “no moral question here at all” in trade with Iran.

Germany has been a thorny ally for Israel in the effort to stop funds and technology from pouring into Iran. German-Iran business relations hovered around €5b. prior to the imposition of potent energy and technology sanctions in 2012.

Tensions increased between Berlin and Jerusalem over the Merkel administration’s refusal to outlaw the European-Iranian trade bank in Hamburg.

After Germany’s former foreign minister Guido Westerwelle permitted the bank to transfer billions of Indian oil payments to Iran, the US Treasury department condemned the Germans. The US listed the bank as a sanctioned entity for financial work on behalf of Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program. As a result of US, British and French pressure, Germany agreed to sanction the bank in 2011.

Just last week, Reuters reported that “Europe’s highest court threw out a challenge by a Hamburg- based Iranian trade bank to its inclusion on the European Union’s sanctions list, a victory for the EU after a number of its Iran sanctions rulings were overturned by courts.”

A massive economic windfall awaits Germany if Iran and the world powers reach an agreement at the end of March.

“In the next five years a doubling of exports is possible. In 2005, they reached almost €5b. We want to get back to that in the short term,” said Volker Treier of Germany’s DIHK chambers of trade and commerce.

The rekindled marriage of German industry and Merkel administration policies with Iran’s regime and industry may taint the milestone of 50 years of German-Israeli relations.

Benjamin Weinthal is a European affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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