Benjamin Weinthal, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and journalist for the Jerusalem Post, spoke to a March 4 Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about Germany’s support for the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is “jeopardizing the security of the European Union, the Middle East, and the United States.”
According to Weinthal, Germany is a “zealous champion” of the “deeply concessionary and flawed” nuclear deal presently being negotiated in Vienna. Billed as a deal to “curb the Iranian regime’s illicit nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief,” Weinthal believes that instead of reining in the mullahs in Tehran, Germany’s “über soggy appeasement” of Iran will advance “its terrorism [and] its support of Russia” while strengthening other totalitarian rulers.
Weinthal said Germany’s policy of appeasement of Iran is “longstanding.” In 1984, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, then Germany’s Foreign Minister, instituted the “Trade to Bring About Change” policy. Although he touted it as a way of “incentiviz[ing]” Iran to engage in trade and change the regime’s human rights violations under the Islamic Republic’s rule following the 1979 revolution, Weinthal said “the joke at the time” was that the “real policy” involved German and other Europeans meeting with the dictators in Tehran to “[bash] … American foreign policy.”
The policy of engaging in trade with Iran with the purported aim of mitigating the regime’s oppression of its population continues today, as Germany is Iran’s “largest trade partner in Europe.” Weinthal said that it is primarily Germany’s engineering sector that “keeps the regime’s infrastructure on life support.” It achieved this by providing technology to Iranian companies and transacting payments through the “Iranian trade bank in Hamburg.” Weinthal reported on a recent case in which Krempel, an “advanced engineering company” in southwestern Germany, provided “dual-use technology” to Iran that was used, despite Germany’s denial, to manufacture “chemical rockets that poisoned” Syrians.
Chancellor Angela Merkel even sent a diplomat “to a sanctions-busting seminar” to counsel companies “how to circumvent U.S. sanctions” during the Trump administration. Trump’s ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, “the most assertive U.S. diplomat in roping in Germany’s … appeasement policies,” sought to sanction the seminar’s participants. He convinced the Germans to sanction the Iranian private airline, Mahan Air, and bar the “terrorist airline” that supplied “funds and military equipment” to Assad’s regime in Syria from landing in Germany. Grenell also pressured Berlin to outlaw the Iranian regime’s proxy terror organization, Hezbollah, which has “over a thousand … operatives” in Germany. Although Germany’s law enforcement developed new legal mechanisms to “crack down on Hezbollah activities” there, if the Germans “chose to” they could ban Hezbollah mosques from “sending funds to Beirut,” which spread the regime’s “revolutionary ideology.”
Despite Grenell’s gains, Weinthal considers “Germany the West’s worst ally.” In the leadup to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Germany banned the United Kingdom from accessing its airspace, thereby denying weapons delivery to the besieged country. Germany’s largest paper, Bild, reported that afterwards Germany sent weapons to Ukraine, but stated that many of the weapons were from a “former East German communist … arsenal” and were “defective.” He added that “Germany has been carrying Vladimir Putin’s water for decades, and … they’re carrying the water of Ali Khomeini since the late eighties.”
Weinthal finds “striking parallels” between Russia’s current behavior and Iran’s. The West “placated” Putin, and he invaded Ukraine. He warned that the “feeble” West should take note that “Iran has the same playbook. … [T]hat’s how dictators work.” Germany has mainly been “pro-Islamic Republic of Iran, pro-communist China, and pro-Putin.” He suspects that the German government is doing little to exert its “economic leverage” with Iran, as it has “refused to use its leverage to secure the release of … German citizens” being held in Iranian prisons.
Tehran’s embassy in Berlin holds an annual event “where the Iranians celebrate the Islamic revolution, and the German Foreign Ministry sends diplomats” to attend. Any celebration lauding the Islamic revolution with its “anti-Americanism and its genocidal anti-Semitism” is a “scandal,” but it is indicative of Germany’s many appeasement policies towards Iran, Weinthal said. “Germany hasn’t learned lessons of the Holocaust.”
Although in 2008, Merkel traveled to Jerusalem to declare that “Israel’s security is non-negotiable,” Weinthal contends Germany’s declarations in favor of Israel are “empty rhetoric.” Olaf Scholz, the new German chancellor from the Social Democratic Party, was recently in Israel to make the “usual statement” siding with Israel, but Weinthal said that Germany’s leaders are “largely concerned about maximizing trade [with Iran],” and the substantial profits Tehran generates will aid the regime’s spread of regional terror, particularly against Israel. A German media report exposed an incident in which the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) paid a Pakistani terrorist to “surveil” Jewish organizations in Germany and assassinate “someone connected to Israel.” Authorities thwarted the terrorist, who is serving a “minor sentence” in a German prison, but Weinthal said that Germany “refused to sanction Tehran over this assassination attempt on its soil.”
Much to Weinthal’s “frustration,” the Ukrainian crisis and NATO’s boycott of Russian oil “hasn’t changed the German calculus towards Iran’s regime.” Weinthal has been warning for years about the “dangers” of the Nord Stream II energy project, which will enable Russia to supply gas to Europe, and why it should be canceled. But he said that “it took a war” for Germany to suspend the project. “It is still up in the air” whether Germany will ultimately cancel Nord Stream altogether. “The lack of consistency in German foreign policy toward totalitarian regimes is very unsettling,” Weinthal said.
When Merkel led the government, she made the “foolish decision” to close Germany’s “nuclear power facilities” and rely instead on Vladimir Putin as the “main source” for Germany’s energy needs. The Trump administration opposed Nord Stream II, “but the Germans refused to listen.” Emily Haber, the German ambassador to Washington since 2018, “aggressively lobbied” Congress to support Nord Stream II, but Weinthal believes the American government “should evict” Haber from the U.S. because of her “pro-Putin policy.”
Among the criticisms leveled at the current nuclear deal negotiations led by U.S. envoy Robert Malley, architect of Obama’s 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is that there is “no transparency.” Notwithstanding this, Weinthal has read that it includes reversing the Trump administration’s terror designations, including “de-listing the IRGC” along with some Iranian “regime officials” as terrorist entities. After it became known that the deal will lift all sanctions on oil, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg declared that buying oil from Iran “is on the table.”
Weinthal is shocked at the similarity of this “saggy appeasement” shared by Germany and the U.S. towards Iran. He said the U.S. now has a “deeply confused government that is spiraling out of control and doesn’t understand who its enemies are,” considering that the IRGC was responsible “for murdering over 600 American military personnel in the Middle East.” He remarked, “why would the U.S. buy Iranian oil when the profits will be used to inflict terrorism on the U.S. and its allies?” Given the concessions reportedly included in the deal, it is little wonder that the Biden administration has not “pushed” Germany to “take a stronger position in light of Iran’s gross human rights violation.”
Weinthal said America is now in the process of “turning inward,” which he believes is a mistake “because it always comes back to haunt us in the U.S.,” based on the outcome of “other forms of neo-isolationism” in the past. With the Biden administration’s unwillingness to impose a “maximum sanctions campaign,” a strategy Weinthal believes would lead to the “collapse of the regime,” he sees the West’s “capitulation” as “severe fatigue” because the West doesn’t want “to engage in a military fight with Iran.” Pushing through a deal will permit the administration to “declare victory,” but he warned that it is “an ephemeral victory.” Instead, “cutting deals where dictatorships don’t honor treaties or deals” will allow Tehran to build nuclear weapons.
As for Germany’s appeasement policies, Weinthal said there needs to be a “dramatic shift in German policy” within the “voting sector.” Germany could help in connection with “democracy promotion,” but “at this point within the voting public … there aren’t enough [votes] … to tip the balance.” Weinthal hoped that “in light of what’s happened with Putin,” more Germans will understand how dangerous the Iranian regime is, and that it needs to “be dissolved.”
In the current political climate, Western powers are prioritizing trade with Iran because it has the “second largest reserve of oil in the world.” Weinthal concluded that, by pursuing its appeasement policy with Iran, the West has opted for “a form of public humiliation.” With the “over one hundred billion” dollars that Iran will receive as “part of this wretched deal in Vienna” that Biden has not made “subject to Congressional approval,” Weinthal said that based on past behavior, he could imagine “increased terrorism in the Middle East [and] around the world from Iran’s regime.” He also fears increases in “kidnapping [and] assassinations of Iranian dissidents, [and] a stronger alliance with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Communist China to stymie American interests around the world.”
Reprinted with author’s permission from Middle East Forum