I remember roughly two years ago in September of 2010 when Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and I uncovered the Swiss heavy earth-moving equipment company Ceresola TLS agreement with Rahab Engineering Establishment in Tehran.
In our Wall Street Journal expose, we noted that Ceresola TLS''s decision to deliver tunneling technology is vital to the success of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, largely because “Tehran needs this know-how to hide military nuclear installations deep underground, as it did with the Qom and Natanz enrichment facilities.” At the time, the Swiss government remained indifferent to international efforts to stop the sale of dual-use (military and civilian) goods to Iran.
All of this helps to partially explain why Switzerland''s economic ministry did not fall into line last week with EU and US sanctions seeking to halt Iran''s atomic program.Traditionally, the Swiss government has been the weakest link in Europe''s efforts to both inflict economic warfare against Iran''s illicit nuclear weapons program and to punish Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for his bloody repression of the country''s pro-democracy movement.In addition to shunning hard-hitting sanctions last week against Iran''s central bank and oil industry, the Swiss government has granted forums to Hamas representatives in 2012.Though the EU and the US classify Hamas as a terror entity, the Swiss—argue critics—tend to abandon core Western security principals to promote “active neutrality” with all sorts of nefarious regimes. When questioned if Bern, the seat of Switzerland''s government, views Hamas as a terrorist group, George Farago, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, wrote in February that “Switzerland does not maintain a comparable EU terror list in which groups are designated as terrorists.”Anne Bayefsky, a prominent UN legal expert and director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, wrote in the Jpost in late March that the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council welcomed Hamas’s own Ismail al-Ashqar. She summed up her article on the topsy-turvy world of the Swiss-based UN body that permitted an EU labeled terrorist to speak: “Only the UN could twist the security threat so that the terrorist front man became the victim.”Last week, the Swiss economics ministry announced it would delay its decision to apply EU oil sanctions to the Islamic Republic, and to exempt the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) from US and EU sanctions. Switzerland is not a member of the EU. Nonetheless, after considerable EU and US pressure on the central European country, the Swiss adopted in January, 2011 EU sanctions targeting the delivery of vital gas and oil technology to Iran.
The Reuters headline on Wednesday captured Bern''s new sanctions position: Swiss leave loophole on Iran''s oil embargo.
To confront Iran''s nuclear weapons program, the West has reached a consensus that the CBI is one of the key targets for economic pressure. Are the Swiss prioritizing their economic interests over the security of the West and the Mideast region?By way of background, it is worth highlighting that Micheline Calmy-Rey, the former Swiss foreign minister, flew to Tehran in 2008 and enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran. The point of her visit was to participate in a signing ceremony for the 18-22 billion euro Swiss EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). This is the same Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, who proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust back in 2006 when meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis. Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote at the time a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”The massive EGL deal prompted rebukes from the Israelis and Americans in 2008 and 2010. The US Embassy in Bern said, "As we noted in the past when this deal was first announced, oil and gas deals with Iran send the wrong message when Iran continues to defy U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
The controversial Swiss posture toward Iran''s government and Hamas raises a host of questions. Is the relatively new Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter advancing Ms. Calmy-Rey''s policy of "active neutrality" toward Iran and its ally Hamas?Since the United States cut diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1980, the Swiss government took over in 1981 the representation of US diplomacy in Iran.
Given the perceived Swiss defiance of US and EU policies and sanctions toward Iran and Hamas, will the Americans change diplomatic representation in Tehran? The US, for example, could transfer its interests section lodged at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to a more reliable partner. The Polish or Czech Republic embassies might be the most likely candidates to replace the Swiss, largely because both countries seem to understand the democratic interests of the US and the free world.