Making a mockery of sanctions

Sanctions on Iran always look better on paper.

August 12, 2010 02:00
3 minute read.
The members of the U.N. Security Council vote on s

Iran sanctions 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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The sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN, EU and US have always looked better on paper than in real life.

Their major underlying flaw – not the only one by any means – is the probability that not everyone will adhere to them.

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In some cases – such as Venezuela, Syria and lately Turkey – this may be a matter of provocative defiance. In another category are countries less ideologically confrontational but with various economic and geopolitical axes to grind. These include, first and foremost, Russia, along with a host of former USSR components, and China and other East Asian states.

Most galling, however, is the behavior of certain European democracies such as Switzerland which, for their own good, should be in the vanguard of the struggle to defend free world interests against a rogue regime with nuclear ambitions.

It’s bad enough that this struggle is limited to hardly adequate measures. But that makes it all the more imperative that western democracies, at the very least, do their utmost to meticulously abide by these strictures. Otherwise, they are a lost cause to begin with and little more than a cover-up for scandalous and self-defeating inaction.

Just as the Western powers are haltingly ratcheting up their sanctions, to take a highly relevant case in point, the Swiss energy giant Elektrizitätsgesellschaft Laufenburg (EGL) is threatening to help render these very sanctions mere hollow declarations. Its major 25-year gas contract, signed two years ago, to import over 5 billion cubic meters annually of Iranian gas valued at 18 billion Euros, far from being abandoned, is now all-systems-go, with a projected pipeline to ferry the fuel via Turkey.

This isn’t the private vagary of an insubordinate firm. It was sponsored with fanfare by the Swiss government itself. Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey mounted a pilgrimage to Iran to “witness” the signing of that momentous gas-supply contract. Sporting a sheer white head scarf, she accorded the transaction her government’s official stamp of approval and lent the occasion high profile, prestige and legitimacy.

At that very time, the new Swiss Ambassador Walter Haffner was presenting his credentials in Israel, and he faced a dressing-down by the Foreign Ministry’s Western European Desk chief for representing a country doing business with Iran. Calmy-Rey responded: “Switzerland is an independent country which has its own strategic interests to defend.”

A year later, Israel temporarily recalled its ambassador to Bern after Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz hobnobbed with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and, in so doing, in Jerusalem’s view, sent rather the wrong message to those calling for Israel’s annihilation.

More recently the Swiss government issued contradictory statements on the export of nuclear pressure gauges to Teheran.

Switzerland’s lax export-control regulations have combined with a gung-ho pro-Iran trade policy to undermine international efforts to compel Teheran to suspend its nuclear enrichment program.

THE US has already imposed a $536 million fine on Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse for violating US prohibitions on business with Iran. Now EGL is in the sights of American congressional probes and, pending investigation, might find itself on the US sanctions blacklist.

When asked by The Jerusalem Post this week about whether the deal may dent international sanctions provisions, EGL spokeswoman Lilly Frei responded that EGL conforms to “local laws and [the rules of the] international community…We have a contract with the company, not [with] Ahmadinejad,” she said.

Plainly, this is a cynical feigning of innocence. It cannot be that business would be countenanced with every Iranian firm whose board of directors isn’t chaired by Ahmadinejad.

There is ample cause to suspect that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is affiliated with the National Iranian Gas Export Company. But even that needn’t be the touchstone.

Sanctions are imposed to make it difficult for a regime which inordinately endangers world peace to carry on unhindered. That is the logic. Money is fungible. Whatever enriches Iranian coffers – especially given the tyrannical nature of the regime – can, even if not directly, help fund terror and/or help Teheran to proceed with nuclear weapons development.

The Swiss aren’t that naive. They know the score perfectly well. They should not make fools of the rest of the world. They should know better than to undermine what are ultimately free world interests, most emphatically including their own.

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