Germany holds the key

Israel must make clear: when it comes to Iran, we expect Germany to lead, and not be an obstacle.

olmert merkel brill224.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert merkel brill224.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, here for a three-day visit with much of her cabinet, will today meet with our prime minister. Tomorrow she will become the first German chancellor to address the Knesset. Merkel will be greeted as a friend of Israel, as she should be. But friendship, if it is to mean anything, is not just about showing empathy with a friend in need. It is about doing what you can and should do to help. While Germany is acting as if it is a helpless observer, Berlin effectively plays a central role in today's global contest. In an irony of history, it is Germany that could be the pivot upon which the struggle between Iran's rogue regime and the free world turns. At this moment, most people cannot see who or what will stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Although the official who signed the bizarre US intelligence report late last year that seemed to deny that Iran was even pursuing a nuclear program has since reversed that judgment, the report's political impact remains: the US has essentially taken the military option off the table. The same report seems to have gutted the international sanctions campaign. And it is not clear that Israel has the will or the ability to reprise the Begin Doctrine and take preemptive action. This judgment, however, takes something critical as a given: that Europe will continue to go through the motions of protest against Iran's program, but will in practice resist the imposition of draconian sanctions on Iran. Why need this be so? A short time ago, when Jacques Chirac was president of France, Tony Blair the beleaguered British prime minister, and Gerhard Schroeder was German chancellor, the idea that Europe might swing behind sanctions on Iran indeed seemed farfetched. But now both the UK and France, under Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy, have been openly pressing for tougher sanctions. And though Merkel now leads Germany, it is Berlin that is dragging its feet. If Merkel switched camps and became a champion of tough European-wide sanctions, the European center of gravity would shift toward taking effective action. The sense of inevitability behind the Iran's race for the bomb would be broken. Germany, then, holds the key. Germany could break diplomatic relations with Teheran, on the grounds that Iran has called for Israel's destruction. Germany could decide to seek the indictment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide, a punishable crime under the Genocide Convention. And Germany could immediately end all its government subsidies for trade with Iran, while pushing for a European-wide trade ban. These are the steps that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should ask Germany to take. After all, if the Israeli government is satisfied with ineffective gestures, what basis does Merkel have to go back and tell her industrialists, "Sorry, but we have to do more"? Israel must make clear: when it comes to Iran, we expect Germany to lead, and certainly not to be an obstacle within Europe to the imposition of effective sanctions. Israel gains nothing and risks everything by pretending that Germany is doing enough. All Israel is, or should be, asking of Europe is to end the 1 percent of its foreign trade that is conducted with Iran. Even if it were "only" Israel's security that were at stake, this should not be too much to ask from countries that claim to recognize a "special responsibility" toward Israel and the Jewish people. But stopping an Iranian bomb is hardly a parochial Israeli interest. In economic terms alone, a radical Islamist Iranian regime with nuclear weapons would be disastrous for Europe, since Iran would immediately use its immunity to create crises that would raise the price of oil, weakening the West and enriching Iran. Back in October 2001, just after 9/11, US President George W. Bush was seeking Arab support for the US-led military action in Afghanistan. Yet at that time, the US was still not explicitly backing Israel's right to self-defense against the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign, and was even pressuring Israel to exhibit restraint. This prompted Israel's new prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to warn the US, "Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938, when enlightened European democracies decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for a 'convenient temporary solution.' Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism." The message seemed to have sunken in, since the US position did in fact change dramatically. Now, if anything, the analogy to 1938 and the folly of appeasement is even more apt. Israel's voice today should be no less clear. And Merkel, the leader of Germany, should listen.