The Swiss and Iran

Neutrality cannot possibly justify inaction in the face of evil; Inaction can be tantamount to complicity.

April 21, 2012 22:05
3 minute read.
An Iranian oil worker

An Iranian oil worker 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)


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Switzerland, a pivotal banking giant and one under whose aegis much international trade is transacted, is crucial in imposing meaningful sanctions on Iran. Swiss dillydallying can do proportionally greater harm than equivocation on part of other states the same size.

Unfortunately, the Swiss have long failed to put their money where their mouth often is. They persist in doing the wrong thing – or in not doing the right thing – despite much sanctimony.

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Last week, we were informed that while Switzerland has purportedly extended financial sanctions against Tehran, it stopped short of freezing the assets of the ayatollahs’ central bank and of imposing an oil embargo in line with actions taken by other Western powers in view of Iran’s ongoing nuclear project.

The Swiss Federal Council did freeze the assets of eight Iranian firms and three Iranian individuals but it did not extend its sanctions to the Iranian central bank, because, in the words of the Swiss Economics Ministry, that bank “is important for the Iranian economy.”

But that is precisely the logic of sanctions – to hit Tehran where it hurts, not to lightly rap it on the wrist. The word from Bern is that it would reconsider at a “later date” whether to ramp up its sanctions.

That is bad news, because Switzerland is not one of Iran’s dubious autocratic hangers-on such as Venezuela or Syria, and it is not a Russian or Chinese ally. Hedging on sanctions by seemingly enlightened Western governments underscores why these sanctions – imposed by both the EU and US – have always looked better on paper than in the real here-and-now.

Their major flaw – hardly the only one – is the probability that not everyone will adhere to them.

We aren’t talking about blatant, provocative defiance, as in the cases of Iran’s circle of best friends, nor of countries less ideologically confrontational but with various economic and geopolitical axes to grind (such as Russia along with a host of former USSR components, China and other East Asian states).

European democracies – like Switzerland – should for their own good be in the vanguard of the struggle to defend Free World interests against a rogue regime with nuclear ambitions. Currently this struggle is limited to doubtfully adequate measures, making it all the more imperative that Western democracies do their utmost to meticulously abide – at the very least – by these feeble strictures. Otherwise, they are a lost cause and little more than a cover-up for scandalous inaction.

Switzerland imports Iranian oil indirectly, but Swiss energy giant Elektrizitätsgesellschaft Laufenburg had proceeded with a projected pipeline to transport the fuel via Turkey. Previously it signed a mega-deal to import more than 5 billion cubic meters annually of Iranian gas valued at 18 billion euros.

This wasn’t the private vagary of an insubordinate firm. It was sponsored with fanfare by the Swiss government itself. Then-foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey mounted a pilgrimage to Iran to “witness” the 2008 signing of that momentous gas-supply contract. Sporting a sheer white head scarf, she accorded the transaction her government’s stamp of approval and lent the occasion high profile, prestige and legitimacy.

An unrepentant Calmy-Rey intoned that that “Switzerland is an independent country which has its own strategic interests to defend.”

To this must be added Switzerland’s prolific lip service to its much-vaunted neutrality. It is imperative, especially considering Switzerland’s sullied World War II history, for it to stay mindful that neutrality cannot possibly justify inaction in the face of evil. In such circumstances, the claim of neutrality facilitates evil, such as Iran’s genocidal plot. Inaction can be tantamount to complicity.

Sanctions are imposed to make it difficult for a regime that endangers world peace to carry on unhindered. That is their objective. Money is fungible. Whatever isn’t denied Tehran – given the tyrannical nature of the regime – could well go to funding terrorism or nuclear weapons development.

The Swiss are not that naive. They are nobody’s fools. They should not make fools of the rest of the world.

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