There is no such thing as innocent trade

Germany, with a special understanding of dangerous leaders, must take the lead and move forcefully against its companies doing business with Iran.

April 8, 2010 01:53
3 minute read.
Merkel, right, speaks with Professor Mustafa Cagri

merkel mufti 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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On Sunday Israel will mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. On Monday, as one of 44 world leaders including US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will go to Washington to discuss nuclear nonproliferation and have an opportunity to help ensure that Iran cannot perpetrate a new Holocaust.

German firms sold $4.6 billion worth of goods to Iran in the first 11 months of 2009. Ironically, Germany is Iran’s largest trading partner in Europe.

Firms doing business with Teheran strengthen a regime that brutally suppresses dissent and violates its citizens’ human rights, that is developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching European and Middle Eastern countries, that is arming, funding and training terrorist groups around the world, and that openly threatens a neighboring state.

Companies must not ignore what the Teheran regime represents to reap financial gain. Despite the great words of Merkel, who has pledged to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, reports about German  firms paint a troubling picture.

On January 20, an Iranian official announced a $1.5 billion deal with a German company to build 100 gas turbo-compressors Iran needs to produce liquefied natural gas. That firm, the official said (referring to Siemens), had already delivered 45 turbo-compressors.

ON THE positive side, a German company announced on January 25 that it was cancelling a contract to supply equipment to an Iranian port. The next day, Siemens said it would reject any further orders from Iran, though existing ones will be filled.

However, that same day the second German State Television, ZDF, exposed one such order that is especially disturbing. Nokia Siemens Network is maintaining and updating the telecommunications network – which includes spyware, surveillance and interception technology and equipment – it sold to Iran in 2008. Iranian police rely on this network to monitor phone conversations and text messages of regime opponents, enabling police to know of protest rallies in advance and arrest opposition leaders, often with transcripts of their conversations and messages in hand.

In another alarming revelation, The New York Times reported on January 6 that Iran has “hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in a network of tunnels.” Iran has thereby “shielded” its nuclear infrastructure from military attack and “further obscured the scale and the nature” of its nuclear program.

The disclosure last September of Iran’s uranium enrichment plant buried inside a mountain near Qum illuminated the dangers created by Iran’s tunnels, dug by massive machines, many supplied by a German firm, Herrenknecht, which has three offices in Teheran.

LAST OCTOBER, US troops boarded a freighter in the Gulf of Suez and discovered seven containers of Kalashnikov ammunition bound for Hizbullah from Iran. The freighter was registered to a German company, Leonhardt & Blumberg, which was leasing it to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

Business ties with Teheran can strengthen the regime other ways. It collected dividends totaling 18.5 million euros in 2007 from its 4.5 percent block of shares in German steel manufacturer, ThyssenKrupp. Teheran uses these earnings to finance loans to companies doing business in Iran.

On the positive side, American pressure on German companies resulted in Iran giving up its seat on ThyssenKrupp’s board and reducing its holdings from 7.8%. Of course, any stake is too much. American pressure also caused Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and Dresdner Bank to stop dealing with Iran. Tough economic measures can succeed in isolating Iran.

These examples also illustrate two of the dangers that seemingly innocent trade with Iran can create. One is that Teheran can use “dual-use” technology for civilian purposes or to bolster its military and nuclear weapons program and arrest opposition leaders. The second is that a transaction as mundane as leasing a freighter can support Iran’s terrorist proxies.

Progress is being made in reducing business dealings with Iran, but much more is needed. Germany, with a special understanding of dangerous leaders, must take the lead and move forcefully against its companies doing business with Iran.

If history had taught Germany anything, now is the time to show the results of those lessons.

The writer is founder and president of The Israel Project, a nonprofit organization that gets facts to media. Her father was born in Cologne, Germany and most of her family was killed by the Nazis.

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