German Chancellor's Jet sold to sanctioned Iran airline

With sale of jet used by Merkel to Mahan, Israeli security experts, Western diplomat accuse Berlin of ignoring clampdown.

Iran Air at Tehran Int'l airport_311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)
Iran Air at Tehran Int'l airport_311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)
BERLIN – Germany's federal government indirectly sold a jet used by Chancellor Angela Merkel and her predecessors to Iran's sanctioned airline Mahan, igniting criticism from Israeli security experts and a Western diplomat.Spiegel Online first reported about the sale of the “Theodor Heuss” jet to Iran on its website Sunday, writing “embarrassment for Berlin” in its report about the delivery of the plane to Iran’s regime.
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The Obama administration imposed sanctions on Mahan airline in October because of the commercial airline’s work with the sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
According to Treasury official David Cohen, “Mahan Air’s close coordination with the IRGC-QF [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp-Quds Force], secretly ferrying operatives, weapons and funds on its flights, reveals yet another facet of the IRGC’s extensive infiltration of Iran’s commercial sector to facilitate its support for terrorism.”
A Western diplomatic source told The Jerusalem Post on Monday: “The case is awkward. It proves again, however, why tougher sanctions need to be imposed on Iran to ensure no bypass and diversion channels are used to break the sanctions.”
The odd sale of a German chancellor’s luxury jet to the Iranians could possibly lead to its use by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or other leading figures of Iran’s government to travel around the world.
In an e-mail to the Post on Monday, Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya, wrote “the sale of an aircraft of this type is obviously not in itself terrifying, but it points to a larger problem, namely the still very brisk trade relations between Germany and Iran, in spite of the acknowledged need to isolate Iran economically and diplomatically because of the regime’s actions.”
Spyer, a top military expert in Israel, continued that “Germans still largely believe Iran to be someone else’s issue, a distant, if problematic, regime.
They therefore regard compliance with sanctions against Teheran, if they support them at all, as an irksome duty. But they aren’t. The Iranian regime and its ambitions are a danger ultimately for Europe as much as for the Middle East. So participation in isolating the regime is an urgent imperative for Germany in terms of its own self-interest. This point has yet to get across.”
In response to a Post e-mail query to Merkel, a spokeswoman wrote that, according to the media report “the machine was sold by the federally owned trust corporation VEBEG. The partner is the Federal Finance Ministry.”
She referred Post queries to the finance ministry and declined to answer questions about the sale, endangering Israel’s security or violating sanctions.
VEBEG is an abbreviation for the Federal Disposal Sales and Marketing Agency. A spokesman for the finance ministry, Bertrand Benoit, wrote the Post by e-mail on Monday that the “machine was posted for sale by the VEBEG as the trust corporation on behalf of the defense ministry and the top bidder from a company in Gibraltor bought the plane and delivered it to a buyer in Kiev.”
Benoit said this “type of process is in no way unusual.”
The finance spokesman said “the VEBEG is not aware if the company in Gibraltor violated trade sanctions” and there was no bar preventing the plane from being sold as dual-use goods because it is not customary for this transaction to have a military usage.
Spiegel reported that Mahan Air obtained the Airbus 310- 304, called Theodor Heuss, via Kiev to Tehran on November 18. The plane is named after West Germany’s first post-war president Theodor Heuss and has been used during the administrations of former chancellors Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder, as well as Merkel. A Ukranian middleman investor bought the plan from the German government for 3.1 million euros and sold it to the Iran’s regime, wrote Spiegel.
The subject of selling dualuse German goods to Iran has been a source of great concern for Israel and Western security agencies. Merchandise that can be converted into both military and civilian use is deemed to be dual-use. It is unclear if the plan falls under the “banned dual-use items” outlined by the EU and Germany’s internal regulations.
In an e-mail to the Post last week, Volker Anders, a spokesman for Germany’s Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA), wrote “BAFA issued in the year 2010 15 approvals for dual-use goods... In the first half of 2011 BAFA issued 2 approvals for dual-use goods.”
Dr. Diana Gregor, a Vienna-based expert on sanctions in Germany andAustria, wrote the Post on Monday by e-mail: “Germany continues to be one of Iran’s largest trading partners. It seems like Germany is trying to operate along the thin line between what it is obliged to do by the UN or the EU and making sure that lucrative deals are not slipping through German hands out of a fear that non-German companies or non-German industry representatives will replace them.”
She continued: “To me, the ‘Theodor Heuss deal’ is embarrassing as it shows how Germany is willing to bypass the sanctions in order to further a specific deal. I find it bizarre that right after the revelations of the latest IAEA report and the international calls for new and stronger Iran sanctions – including those voices from Chancellor Merkel and her spokesman Steffen Seibert – such a deal would be made possible.”
Melody Sucharewicz, the Munich-born Israeli specialist on German-Israeli relations, wrote the Post on Monday “The moral dimension of sanctions against a womenstoning, Holocaust-denying and nuclear thirsty Islamist regime should not be compromised by economical interests.
Whether the Iranian end-user was known to the German government at the time the jet-deal with the Ukranian investor was sealed or not – there seems to be a widening gap between Germany’s political discourse on the need for fierce sanctions against the Ayatollah regime and actual trade-related actions behind closed doors.”
During his tour last week of Germany, Dan Schueftan, deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, told the German media that Germany’s government is not doing enough to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.